A colored pencil drawing of a hand holding a mail in ballot. Behind it there is an "I voted" sticker.
(Sarah Aineb)

As fire season continues to engulf California and the pandemic rages on, a third unprecedented event approaches: the November 3 presidential election. The coronavirus, rampant voter suppression, attacks on the U.S. Postal Service and a sitting president who is threatening to disregard the will of the people make this election unlike any in modern history. But one thing remains true: knowing your rights and responsibilities as a voter is the best way to ensure your ballot is counted. For people without permanent housing, this is especially important. 

The best way to be certain your vote is counted is to vote early, whether that be in person or by mail. This guide will walk you through the process of registering to vote without an address, how to vote in person, how to vote by mail without an address, how to vote early, and other relevant questions.

Registering to Vote:

The voter registration deadline for this fall’s election is October 19. You can check to see if you’re registered online at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov. You can also register for the first time at: registertovote.ca.gov.

If you don’t want to register online, you can pick up paper copies of voter registration forms at most government or city offices, the public library, some DMV locations, or at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters: 1225 Fallon St., Room G-1 Oakland, CA 94612. 

The requirements for voting in the United States are that one is a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony (misdemeanors and being on probation are allowed), and not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court. If a person fits all of these requirements, they can register to vote in their county.

How Do I Register and Vote Without a Permanent Address?

You are legally guaranteed a right to vote even if you do not have a permanent address. Because of the pandemic, all Californians who are registered to vote will be sent a mail-in ballot. If you wish to vote by mail, you will need to register to vote using an address you trust, where you can receive mail. This could be the address of a family member or a friend, or even a shelter where you stay—just make sure to ask before registering at your shelter’s address. You could also sign up to receive mail through service providers such as the Homeless Action Center in Oakland, the Berkeley Catholic Worker, the Berkeley Drop-In Center, and others. 

If you do not have a specific address where you can receive mail, that’s okay! You can still vote in person. You will still need to enter an address when you register to vote, but that address can be a cross street or any other location you frequently stay. In this case, you may not receive your vote by mail materials, so you should plan to vote in-person. 

How & Where Can I Vote In Person?

Instead of traditional polling places, this election Alameda County has set up accessible voting locations, which will be open from October 31-November 3 for you to cast your vote in person. Voters are being encouraged to vote before election day on November 3 if possible. Starting October 5, you can cast your ballot early at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ office, which is located at the René C. Davidson Courthouse. Address: 1225 Fallon Street, Room G-1.

Starting October 31, you can cast your vote at any accessible voting location in Alameda County. A map of the voting locations can be found here.

According to the Alameda County Voter Registrar’s office, the Accessible Voting Locations will be open at these hours: 

October 31: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

November 1 and 2: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m

November 3: 7:00 am to 8:00 pm

These voting locations will be set up to allow people six feet of physical distance while voting. Counties will provide voters with PPE if asked. It is not necessary to have a photo ID to vote in California. While voting, you can ask to receive help reading or recording your vote from poll workers.

Where Do I Send My Mail-In Ballot?

Every voter in California will receive a mail-in ballot sometime after October 5. The ballot comes with prepaid postage and you can send it back in the mail via USPS any day up until November 3. Voters are encouraged to send their ballots in as early as possible. Every ballot postmarked November 3 that arrives at the registrar within 17 days of election day will be counted, no matter what. 

You can also submit your mail-in ballot in a ballot drop box. You can find a list of ballot drop boxes here.

What If I Miss the Voter Registration Deadline?

You can still register to vote even if you miss the voter registration deadline of October 19. If you miss the deadline and still want to vote, you can still conditionally register to vote and cast a ballot. Voting conditionally just means that your vote will be counted later in the process. The form for conditional registration can be found here.

You can also do this in-person at any accessible voting center on or after October 5, or at an accessible voting center on November 3. You will simply need to show up at the accessible voting center and ask to fill out a registration form to vote conditionally. This process basically allows you to register on the spot. You don’t have to show your ID, but you will need the last four digits of your social security number or your California driver’s license number. If the accessible voting center you are voting in is within Alameda County, will also need to list an address that is within Alameda County—but you can use any address within the county, including shelters, public parks, and cross streets. 

How Can I Make Sure My Vote Was Counted?

After you vote, you can sign up to track your ballot’s progress here.