Frequently Asked Questions

About Candidates and State Ballot Measures

  1. How is a general election different from a primary election in California? Why are two people with the same political party preference sometimes running against each other?

    California conducts top-two primaries for constitutional, congressional, and legislative offices. In a June top-two primary all candidates for an office are listed on the same ballot and anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of political party preference. Only the two candidates who receive the most votes (also known as the top two vote-getters) in each constitutional, congressional, and legislative contest move on to the November general election. The top-two primary does not apply to the contest for United States President and, therefore, there are party-specific ballots for a June primary.

    In a November general election in California, there are no party specific ballots. For constitutional, congressional, and legislative office contests, the top two vote-getters from the primary (or three if there was a tie for second place) will appear on the ballot. For United States President and local office contests, there may be more than two candidates on the ballot.

  2. What do party preferences mean when listed with candidates' names on the ballot? What are the qualified political parties and abbreviations of those party names?

    A candidate must indicate his or her preference or lack of preference for a qualified political party. If the candidate has a qualified political party preference, that qualified political party will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot. If a candidate does not have a qualified political party preference, "Party Preference: None" will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot.

    Similarly, voters who do not have a party preference are known as having "no party preference" or as "NPP" voters.

    Abbreviations for the qualified political parties are:

    1. DEM = Democratic Party
    2. REP = Republican Party
    3. AI = American Independent Party
    4. GRN = Green Party
    5. LIB = Libertarian Party
    6. P&F = Peace & Freedom Party
  3. Why does one presidential candidate have more than one political party listed with their name?

    For presidential candidates, the political party listed with the candidate's name indicates the party (or parties) that have nominated them. One candidate was nominated by two political parties.

  4. Who is running for office?

    The Secretary of State's Certified List of Candidates (PDF) includes all candidates for United States President, United States Senator, United States House of Representatives, State Senator, and State Assemblymember who are up for election. The Certified List of Write-In Presidential Candidates (PDF) lists all the candidates running for United States President as write-in candidates.

    County elections officials provide certified lists of candidates for local contests such as mayor and sheriff.

    Information about candidates for United States Senator is available in the Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide. Information about candidates for United States President are only available in the online version of Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide due to the timing of the party nominations and the preparation of the Guide.

    Information about candidates for United States House of Representatives, State Senator, and State Assemblymember is available through county election offices and your county's sample ballot booklet.

  5. How do we elect the President of the United States?

    Unlike in most elections, the person who becomes president is not necessarily the candidate who wins the most votes on Election Day. Instead, the election of the President of the United States is a two-step process.

    First, voters cast ballots on Election Day in each state. In nearly every state, the candidate who gets the most votes wins the "electoral votes" for that state, and gets that number of voters (or "electors") in the "Electoral College."

    Second, the electors from each of the 50 states gather in December and cast their vote for President. The person who receives a majority of votes from the Electoral College becomes President.

    How exactly does this work? Under the Electoral College system, there are a total of 538 electoral votes. Each state is assigned a certain number of electoral votes; the number of electoral votes each state receives is proportional to its size—the bigger the state's population, the more electoral votes it gets. The formula for determining the number of votes for each state is simple: each state gets one vote for each of its two United States Senators and one additional vote for each member it has in the House of Representatives. For California, this means we get 55 votes (2 United States Senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives)—the most of any state.

    For more information on the Electoral College, please see our website at: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/electoral-college/.

  6. What statewide ballot measures (also known as propositions) are on the November 8, 2016, General Election ballot? How did these measures qualify for the ballot?

    There are 17 statewide propositions on the November 8, 2016, General Election ballot. Of the 17 statewide propositions, 14 are citizen initiatives, two were placed on the ballot by the Legislature, and one is a referendum.

    All statewide ballot measures require a simple majority of the public's vote to be enacted.

    The initiative process is the power of the people to directly place measures on the statewide ballot through signed petitions. These measures can change a California law or the California Constitution.

    The 14 citizen initiative measures on the November 8, 2016, General Election Ballot are Propositions 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, and 66.

    A legislative initiative amendment is an amendment to a law that was previously enacted through the initiative process and must be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people before taking effect.

    Proposition 58 is the only legislative initiative amendment on the November 8, 2016, General Election ballot.

    A legislative advisory question is a ballot measure in which citizens vote on a non-binding question. An advisory question does not create a new law.

    Proposition 59 is the only legislative advisory question on the November 8, 2016, General Election ballot.

    The referendum process is the power of the people to approve or reject new laws passed by the Legislature before they take effect (with the exception of urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual, current state expenses) through signed petitions. Proponents of the referendum ask for a "no" vote, which stops the new law from going into effect. Opponents of the referendum, who want the law to go into effect as is, ask for a "yes" vote. The law will be enacted unless voters cast more "no" votes than "yes" votes on the referendum.

    Proposition 67 is the only referendum measure on the November 8, 2016, General Election ballot.

  7. Who writes the arguments for and against the ballot measures that are printed in the Secretary of State's official Voter Information Guide?

    The Secretary of State's office does not write ballot arguments. Arguments for and against ballot measures are provided by proponents and opponents of the ballot measures. According to law, ballot argument language cannot be changed in any way unless a court orders it to be changed.

    If multiple arguments are submitted for or against a measure, the law requires first priority to be given to arguments written by legislators in the case of legislative measures, and arguments written by the proponents of an initiative or referendum in the case of an initiative or referendum. Subsequent priority for all measures goes to bona fide associations of citizens and then to individual voters.

  8. Is it required to vote on every contest or proposition on the ballot?

    No, it is not required to vote on every contest or proposition on your ballot. Your ballot will not be invalidated if you do not vote on every contest or every proposition.

About This Election Results Website

  1. Will the unofficial election results change after Election Night? When will all of the election results be final?

    Yes, election results will change throughout the canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots, and other ballots are processed. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it may take up to 30 days (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters. The frequency of updated results will vary based on the size of each county and the process each county elections office uses to tally and report votes.

    County elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State for presidential electors by December 6, 2016, and all other offices by December 9, 2016. The Secretary of State will certify the results of the presidential electors to the Governor by December 10, 2016, and will certify the results of all other offices by December 16, 2016.

  2. What qualifies as "a close contest" for purposes of the Secretary of State’s election results website?

    For people interested in watching contests with particularly tight margins, the Secretary of State website includes a "close contest" feature. As election results come in, this page will list all contests in which there is less than a two percent difference between first and second place for candidates or between "yes" and "no" votes for ballot measures. Election results will change throughout the 30-day canvass period (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots, and other ballots are tallied.

  3. On Election Night: Why have some counties not reported any results immediately after the polls close?

    State law requires county elections officials to send their first batch of results to the Secretary of State’s office no more than two hours after they begin tallying votes after polls close on Election Day. Each of the 58 county elections offices processes ballots differently, and the distances poll workers must travel from polling places to county offices vary greatly. County elections officials continue to report results periodically on Election Night until all precinct vote totals have been reported. County elections officials will continue to count ballots for up to 30 days (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) after Election Day.

  4. On Election Night: Why do some counties show no precincts have reported, yet some votes have been counted?

    The first election results are typically ballots received before Election Day. Military and overseas voters may cast ballots up to 60 days before Election Day and vote-by-mail voters may begin voting 29 days before Election Day. County elections officials may begin opening vote-by-mail ballot envelopes up to ten business days before Election Day, but those results cannot be accessed or shared with the public until all polls close on Election Day.

    Many county elections officials choose to tally and report these early voted ballots before results come in from precincts, which are sometimes far away from county headquarters. Early voted ballots simply appear as raw vote totals because, in this initial stage, the ballots are not attributed to individual precincts.

  5. On Election Night: Why do some contests show a high percentage of precincts reporting, yet the number of votes continues to change?

    Some counties will show an entire precinct as having reported even if only one ballot from that precinct has been counted. This is why the website specifically notes the data is from precincts "partially reporting."

    Once a county submits its final ballot-count report for Election Night, "SF" for Semi-Final will be noted in the Report Type column. Election Night results can be viewed as a snapshot in time here.

    Election results will change throughout the 30-day canvass period (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots, and other ballots are tallied.

  6. When are vote-by-mail ballots counted?

    Vote-by-mail ballots that are received by county elections officials before Election Day are typically counted on Election Day. Many more vote-by-mail ballots are dropped off at polling places, drop box locations, or arrive at county elections offices on Election Day. A vote-by-mail ballot is to be counted if received in the county elections office no later than three days after the election and postmarked on or before Election Day. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 30 days (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters. The frequency of updated results will vary based on the size of each county and the process each local elections office uses to tally and report votes.

    All vote-by-mail ballots that county elections officials determine to be valid and cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State by December 16, 2016.

  7. When are provisional ballots counted?

    County elections officials must review all provisional ballots. All provisional ballots that county elections officials determine to be valid and cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State by December 16, 2016. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 30 days (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters.

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