California vote by mail ballots will arrive soon, here’s what you should know

Every registered California voter will soon get a vote-by-mail ballot sent to their address and new safety measures are being taken to insure the voting process goes smoothly.

Even if you never requested a mail-in ballot, the week of Oct. 5 is when most counties anticipate blank ballots will arrive. If you move or update your voter registration another new ballot is automatically generated.

“We’ll catch anyone who tries to vote twice,” said Contra Costa County’s Assistant Registrar Scott Konopasek. “We historically have caught people and we’ve prosecuted people who have voted twice or attempted to vote twice.”

KTVU recently exposed thieves captured on camera stealing mail using counterfeit keys to gain access to apartment buildings’ mailboxes. U.S. Postal Inspectors said they’re on the case to protect all mail – including election mail.

“We’re out there,” Postal Inspector Jeff Fitch said. “These are federal crimes and we take this very seriously. All mail is important to us.”

For at least the last three years, the Postal Inspection Service has seen large increases in mail theft across California. Some Oakland neighbors discovered bags of stolen mail last month with addresses from Hercules to Elk Grove and everything from unemployment checks to personal medical information.

But elections officials say stealing ballots is actually rare.

New options allow of convenience and security to make sure your vote is counted and only once. After vote-by-mail ballots arrive at a county Board of Elections, envelopes go through a machine that sorts and takes pictures of voters’ signatures, names and barcodes. They’re uploaded to the voter registration system and signatures are visually compared with those signatures on file.

“An actual person is looking at every one,” Konopasek said. “I wouldn’t have too many concerns.”

If the signature doesn’t match, a letter is sent to the voter asking them to sign an affidavit and send it back in order for the ballot to be processed. But elections officials urge voters to vote early.

Most counties have installed drop-off boxes to increase convenience and voter turnout. It also eliminates distrust of the postal service.

If a voter doesn’t receive a blank ballot by Oct. 19, something is probably amiss. That doesn’t mean you can’t vote early or in person on Election Day, however, it’s recommended you contact your local Board of Elections.

Statewide, there’s also a new level of security to find out where your ballot is even before it arrives in your mailbox to fill out. It’s called “Where’s My Ballot?” and it’s similar to tracking a package. After signing up, you’ll get instant notifications.

“The really cool thing is a voter can track their ballot coming back to us as well,” Konopasek said.

That means you’ll know when the county gets your ballot and when it’s actually counted.

In California, voting by mail isn’t new and the infrastructure has been in place for years.

If you don’t want to vote by mail, you can vote early in person or at your polling place on Election Day. But be warned, you’ll have to wait in line and take extra safety precautions to protect against COVID-19.

“We know what we’re doing. Don’t be scared,” Konopasek said. “Vote early. Vote by mail. Be safe. Vote at home.”

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU