Mission resident Maia Bruno-Basaing casts a ballot on Thursday night at USPS box on 25th and Valencia in the Mission. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly.

More than a dozen times as many ballots have been returned in San Francisco than at this point in 2016

The Nov. 3 presidential election is 15 days away — but in San Francisco, it is already underway. Due to the pandemic and shelter-in-place order, every registered voter in California should have received a ballot in the mail by now. 

“Early voting offers San Franciscans a convenient opportunity to vote in person, drop off a voted ballot, get a replacement ballot, or get voting assistance in multiple languages,” said San Francisco Department of Elections director John Arntz. Here are some common questions about the election and voting, asked and answered:

Have ballots been accepted yet? 

Yes. As of Oct. 15, 81,987 ballots have been accepted in San Francisco. Of those ballots, 56,458 are Democratic, 5,210 Republican and 18,441 state no party preference. The rest fall under Independent, Green, Libertarian or Peace and Freedom. Around the same time in 2016, only 6,416 ballots had been accepted in San Francisco.

When do mail-in ballots start to be counted?

Whether states can process ballots before election day varies. In California, “pre-processing” of ballots began on October 5. Pre-processing refers to steps that allow election officials to get a head start on counting before Election Day. This includes opening outer envelopes, sorting envelopes and verifying signatures.

Some states, including California, accept ballots after Election Day, if they were postmarked by Election Day.

In the state of California, counties may begin “officially processing” vote-by-mail seven days before the election

The count does not begin until after 8 p.m. on Election Day, the time when the polls close.  

If you have voted by mail and your vote has been pre-processed, your ballot will likely be among the first counted and announced after the polls close. The San Francisco Department of Elections announces updated counts every hour or so on Election Day into the wee hours (and commencing again the next day and the day thereafter). 

Subsequent announcements of the count are made daily, usually at 4 p.m. 

Counties may process votes prior to commencing their election-day count. 

Mail-in ballots not counted on election day, and all those received on or after election day, either through the mail or at the precincts, are tabulated in the days after the election. This can take a week or more — and the Department of Elections has a full month to certify the vote. 

Vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Nov. 3 or earlier will be accepted until Nov. 20

When is my last chance to mail or drop-off my ballot?

Polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. All ballots dropped off that day will be accepted. 

And, up until Nov. 20, all ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 will be accepted. 

What resources are there for Spanish-speaking voters? 

In San Francisco, 7,588 Spanish-language ballots were sent out for 2020 to those who requested their voting materials in Spanish. That is just 1.5 percent of the ballots sent. 

Voter inserts, ballots and the state voter guide are translated into Spanish when requested. “We work with organizations in diverse communities, tabling events, sending notices in other languages and doing outreach,” says Arntz. 

Voters requiring assistance with their ballot may contact (415) 554-4375. 

When is the last day to register?

The last day to register to receive a ballot in the mail is Oct. 19, after which voters will have to register in person, at a voting center or polling place. Even if you are not registered on Election Day, you can still vote in-person using a provisional ballot. 

Not sure if you are registered?

Check here: https://sfelections.org/tools/portal/ 

Or call: (415) 554-4375

What disqualifies a ballot? 

The most common mistake Arntz finds when accepting ballots is that they are “missing a required signature,” he says. That signature must go on the outside of the envelope. 

Where can I vote? 

Mail-in ballot:

  • Find a local USPS drop box here: https://tools.usps.com/find-location.htm
  • There are also places to drop off your ballot in every supervisorial district.
  • In the Mission, ballots may be dropped at the Mission Branch Library at 300 Bartlett Street. It will be open Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday, Nov. 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

You can find all the official ballot drop off locations throughout San Francisco at this link

In person at Civic Center:

  • Early in-person voting is taking place this year at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium at 99 Grove St., between Polk and Larkin streets. 
  • Every weekday, Oct.  5 to Nov.  2, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. *
  • Three weekends, Oct. 17 to 18, Oct.  24to 25 and Oct.  31 to Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Election Day, Tuesday, Nov.  3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (same voting hours as polling places).

Local polling place on Election Day:

  • On Election Day, voters may return their ballots to any of the 588 drop-off stations set up at polling places across the City. All polling locations also act as official drop boxes, and voters can drop off their mail-in ballots in person on election day. 
  • You can also vote at your local polling place. To find your local polling place, enter your address on this site: https://sfelections.org/tools/map_poll_time/ 

Other official drop boxes in San Francisco open before election day: 

  • Anza Branch Library, 550 37th Ave.
  • Golden Gate Valley Library, 1801 Green St.
  • Portsmouth Square, Washington Street at Walter U Lum Place (starting Oct. 31)
  • Ortega Branch Library, 3223 Ortega St.
  • Park Branch Library, 1833 Page St.
  • Chase Center, 1655 3rd St.
  • West Portal Branch Library, 190 Lenox Way
  • Noe Valley/Sally Brunn Branch Library, 451 Jersey St.
  • Bayview/Linda Brooks-Burton Library, 5075 3rd St.
  • Excelsior Branch Library, 4400 Mission St. (starting Oct. 31)

Can I track my ballot?

Yes! You can track your ballot online: https://california.ballottrax.net/voter/.

You can even receive email and text alerts as your ballot is processed.

Clara-Sophia Daly

Clara-Sophia Daly is a multimedia storyteller and reporter who has worked both in print and audio. A graduate of Skidmore College where she studied International Affairs and Media/Film studies, she enjoys...

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  1. Just wanted to put it out there that, according to Mission Local statistics, only 76.5% of elegible voters are registered in SF.

    Compare that to LA at over 91% and 93% in Marin.

    The deadline to register is today, Oct 19.

    We need to do better as a city.

    So many essential initiatives to vote for at the city and state levels that affect every single one of us,.

    Please register and please vote!

    1. If you missed the Oct 19 deadline, you can register and vote at Civic Center any day, or any polling place on Nov 3.
      You’ll vote “provisional”, which just means the county will confirm your info before including your vote in the totals.

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