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California expects 'big, big turnout' for November election

In an interview for CNET's Now What series, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla tells Connie Guglielmo how to make sure your vote is counted.

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

As we hurtle toward the Nov. 3 presidential election, states around the country are preparing for what they expect will be a massive vote turnout. Alex Padilla, the secretary of state for California, predicts the same for the Golden State, saying that even the coronavirus pandemic isn't expected to temper voter enthusiasm.

"Registration continues to surge to more than 21 million voters now on the rolls in California," he said. "Between the enthusiasm and the multiple options for voting and staying safe this November, I'm expecting a big, big turnout."

Now playing: Watch this: For November's election, make a plan to vote

Padilla recently spoke to CNET Editor in Chief Connie Guglielmo as part of the CNET's Now What interview series.

Though the nation's most populous state doesn't operate an exclusively vote-by-mail system, for the first time it's sent all active voters a ballot for the election. People may still vote in person if they want, but Padilla hopes voting by mail will help people feel safe in a time of social distancing.


Padilla speaks at during a press conference on voting rights and voter registration in 2018.

C Olivera/Getty Images

"We want to ensure that participation is also safe," says Padilla, who has overseen voting in California since he was sworn in as secretary of state in 2015. "We care about the health and safety of voters and election workers alike."

Physical polling places will enforce social distancing, mask wearing and other safety measures. Some locations also have been moved as precaution.

"It does not make sense anymore to conduct voting in a neighbor's garage or to place a voting location in a retirement home for obvious reasons," Padilla said. "We're not just looking for replacement locations, but a larger facility that can accommodate physical distancing and some of the other measures that we need to incorporate into the in-person voting experience."

Election voter information guide
James Martin/CNET

No matter how you plan to vote, you can register online at the California Secretary of State website. There, you also can verify your status as an active voter if you haven't participated in the last few elections.

To make sure your mail ballot is counted, Padilla says to use the postage-paid return envelope provided (no stamp required) and to sign and date it. Your signature will then be compared with the signature on file with your initial registration.

"If the signature doesn't match, because for some of us, our signature has changed over time, the county is required to contact the voter and offer an opportunity to cure that issue," he says. "So if you're getting a phone call right after the election from your county elections office, you may want to take it or return that email or text message whatever it is."

Besides mailing, voters also can return their ballot in person to their county clerk's office, a polling place on Election Day or (if your county has them), use one of the official dropboxes. (Fake dropboxes have been found in California, so make sure you know where you're dropping off your ballot.) Voters can then sign up for automated text or email alerts that notify them when their ballot has been received and counted.

Ultimately, though, Padilla suggests making a plan for doing voting, including voting early. Physical polling locations are required to offer voting starting Oct. 31, but some locations will open earlier.

"If you can vote by mail earlier rather than later, send your ballot in with plenty of time," he says. (Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3.) "If you're going to vote in person, go the first days that in person voting is being offered. Don't leave it to the last day to keep those lines a little bit shorter and the wait times a little bit shorter on election day."

Padilla has lots more to say, including about why we can't vote by text, so listen to the interview for the full discussion. 

Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal."  There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.