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 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 party preference. Only the two candidates who receive the most votes in each constitutional, congressional and legislative contest moved on to this November general election.

  2. What do "party preference" and "no party preference" mean when listed with candidate names on a ballot? What are the qualified political parties and website abbreviations?

    Since 2011, Californians who were previously known as "decline-to-state" (because they did not have a party affiliation) are known as "no party preference." If a constitutional, congressional or legislative candidate does not have a preference for a qualified political party, the phrase "no party preference" is listed next to the candidate's name.

    Secretary of State website abbreviations for party preference are as follows:

    • DEM = Democratic Party
    • REP = Republican Party
    • AI = American Independent Party
    • AE = Americans Elect Party
    • GRN = Green Party
    • LIB = Libertarian Party
    • P&F = Peace & Freedom Party
    • NPP = No Party Preference
  3. Who is running for office?

    The Secretary of State's Certified List of Candidates (PDF) includes all candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Board of Equalization, U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, State Assembly, and justices of the State Supreme Court and courts of appeal who are up for election.

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

    More information about candidates for statewide constitutional offices is in the Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide.

    More information about legislative and congressional candidates is available through county elections office websites.

  4. What propositions are on the November 4 ballot? How did these measures qualify for the ballot?

    There are six statewide propositions on the November 4 ballot. Two were put on the ballot by the Legislature, three are initiatives, and one is a referendum.

    Each measure requires 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 referendum process is the power of the people to approve or reject new laws through signed petitions. A referendum is presented differently than other types of ballot measures. Proponents of the referendum ask for a no vote, which repeals the new law. Opponents of the referendum, who want the law to remain as is, ask for a yes vote. The law will be repealed if voters cast more no votes on the referendum.

  5. Who writes the arguments for and against ballot measures that are printed in the Secretary of State's official voter guides?

    The Secretary of State's office does not take positions on ballot measures and 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.

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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 28 days 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.

    County elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State by December 5. The Secretary of State then will certify the results of the election by December 12. (Elections Code sections 15210, 15375, 15400, 15401, 15501, 15503)

  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 contests" 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 28-day canvass period 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?

    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. 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 the votes after polls close on election day. 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 28 days after election day. (Elections Code section 15151, 15372)

  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. Voters may cast ballots up to 29 days before election day. County elections officials may begin opening vote-by-mail ballot envelopes up to seven 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. (Elections Code sections 15101, 15152)

  5. On election night: Why do some contests show a high percentage of precincts reporting, yet the number of total 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, "FENU" (final election night update) will be noted in the Report Type column on the County Reporting Status page.

    Election results will change throughout the the 28-day canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots and other ballots are tallied. (Elections Code sections 15150, 15151, 15152, 15375, 15400, 15401)

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

    Vote-by-mail ballots that are received by county elections offices before election day are typically counted on election day. Many more vote-by-mail ballots are dropped off at polling places or arrive at county elections offices on election day. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 28 days 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 have been cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State on December 12. (Elections Code sections 15101, 15372, 15400, 15401)

  7. When are provisional ballots counted?

    All provisional ballots that county elections officials determine have been cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State on December 12. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 28 days for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters. (Elections Code sections 14310, 15372)

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