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California Voting Guide: Give Power to Your Voice

Written By Elan Carson | Apr 6, 2016

This will be my first year voting. In the beginning, religious rhetoric kept me from participating at the polls. Then I decided that no matter who I chose to vote for, I would simply be opting for the lesser of two evils.

But now, at 26, I’ve re-evaluated these notions. Similar to the strategy employed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin when they separated, I have consciously uncoupled from my former ideology.

Without voting, I won’t have a platform to give my voice power.

I’ve decided that having a voice in determining our leaders is crucial. This election season moves me to act in defense of women’s rights and LGBT+ inclusivity, as well as to establish more affordable education options and expanded healthcare access–because let’s get real, no one should have to set up a GoFundMe page to cover medical expenses and ultimately survive.

Whether you’re conservative or liberal, voting is your one chance to choose representatives who share your belief system, and reflect your idea of American society at-large. I would like to believe that we stand for inclusivity; that we can welcome people of all backgrounds without systemic racism, celebrating instead of further marginalizing our diverse communities.

But without voting, I won’t have a platform to give my voice power.

As a first time voter, here’s some information I’ve found helpful when it comes to registering and participating in this year’s election:

How do you register to vote in California?

The process of registering to vote is pretty effortless. It simply involves filling out an online form or printing an application and sending it in via snail mail. There is also the option of completing a form in person by visiting your local DMV, though I cannot guarantee that that process will be as pain-free, or straightforward.

The application takes approximately five minutes to complete and requires a California ID number as well as the last four digits of your social security number. If you do not have a driver’s license or California ID number, you will be asked to print, sign and mail in your application, which will be sent to your county election’s office. To get rolling, check out the California Voter Registration Website.

Other ways to obtain an application include stopping by your county elections office, local post office, or public library. If you desire to have a paper application mailed to you, you can contact your county elections office or the Secretary of State’s voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE.

Who’s eligible to vote and who’s not?

In order to vote you must meet five eligibility requirements:

  • You must be 18 years or older by the time Election Day rolls around.
  • You must be a California resident.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen.
  • You CANNOT be found mentally incompetent by a court. This remains a controversial eligibility requirement that some believe is stigmatizing and in violation of human rights. A few examples of those who are deemed mentally incompetent include people who are unable to take care of or provide proper support/guardianship for their children, are unable to be financially independent or manage affairs, and those who cannot enter into a contract.
  • You CANNOT be incarcerated, or according to DMV.org, “in prison, on parole, serving a state sentence in county jail, serving a sentence for a felony pursuant to subdivision (h) of Penal Code section 1170, or on post-release community supervision.”

What do I need to know about the Presidential and State Primaries?

The Presidential primary is your chance to select candidates to run against each other in November. When you register to vote, you’ll be asked which political party you belong to. In California, your answer determines which Presidential candidates you’ll see on your ballot.

If you want to vote for the Green, Peace & Freedom, or Republican Party candidates, then you must choose that party upon registering. The American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties allow you to cast a vote in their primaries even if you select “no party preference.”

In the State primaries, you can choose between candidates for U.S. Congress and the California State Legislature, as well as vote on any proposed state initiatives, or proposals affecting your local municipality.

In order to vote in the Presidential and State primaries you must register for the June election (see key dates mentioned below).

What are deadlines to remember for the primaries?

  • May 9, 2016 is the first day you can vote by mail. This is significant if you are temporarily living out of state or overseas (e.g., if you are in the military or a U.S. citizen who is abroad).
  • Your last chance to register is 15 days before the Election Day. This is referred to as E-15. Your application must be submitted before midnight on the registration deadline day. This year, the last day to register is May 23, 2016.
  • The last day to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot is May 31, 2016.
  • The California Primary Election will be held on June 7, 2016. Polling locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

What is same-day registration (SDR) and does California offer it?

Same day registration enables qualified citizens to register or update their information on Election Day at the polls and then proceed to vote.

Currently, 15 states offer or have enacted laws for SDR. California has enacted SDR, but has not implemented it yet. This delay is attributed to getting the voter registration database up to speed with federal requirements.


Throughout this process, I’ve become increasingly curious and informed—sparking my desire to learn more about candidates, political parties and government infrastructure, in order to make an educated decision.

Had I decided to stand down, as I’d done in previous years, I would simply be giving my vote away to a candidate I do not support. As John Kinnear, author of the Ask Your Dad blog states, “Voting is not a requirement, but it is a responsibility.”

Now it’s time for me to exercise my privilege to vote, and give power to my voice.

Elan Carson is professional copywriter, public speaker and the author of two books: The Willow Tree and Online Dating, Cats, & Other Social Mishaps.

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