A contentious general election in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought rise to another issue: casting a ballot. Here's what you need to know about voting by mail this fall.
Under Santa Clara County's Voter's Choice Act, all registered voters will be sent mail-in ballots for this election starting Monday, Oct. 5. The ballot will come with a pre-paid envelope so the voter can send it back. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Election Day.
For people who do not trust sending their ballot through the U.S. Postal Service, the Registrar of Voters will deploy about 90 drop boxes throughout the county. County staff, not the Postal Service, will collect those ballots and bring them back to be counted. Outside drop boxes are available at any time until the close of voting at 8 p.m. on Election Day. Those placed inside buildings are open during the building's business hours.
In Palo Alto, the drop boxes are outside at the following locations: Palo Alto High School, 50 Embarcadero Road; Rinconada Branch Library, 1213 Newell Road; Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.; and Mitchell Park Library, 3700 Middlefield Road.
The ballots will be picked up daily starting on Oct. 19. Santa Clara County has placed both its old and new boxes side by side to handle a higher volume of ballots. Voters can place their ballot in either one; both are legitimate.
The new boxes are labeled with the Santa Clara County seal and the words "Official Ballot Drop Box" on the front. The old one has "Ballot Drop-Off" in giant blue capital letters on the front of the box, and the county seal is on side of the box in the bottom corner.
Voters can also drop off their ballots in person at one of about 100 vote centers, which will open on Oct. 31 for four days, up to and including Nov. 3, Election Day. People also can come to vote in person at a vote center then if they've misplaced their mailed ballots, need language assistance or require accessibility accommodations. They will be open from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. Same-day registration for eligible voters is available at polling places, vote centers and the county Elections Office at 1555 Berger Dr., Building 2, San Jose.
In Palo Alto, vote centers can be found at the following locations: Rinconada Library's Embarcadero Room, 1213 Newell Road; Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium, 1213 Newell Road; the Mitchell Park Community Center's Adobe Room, 3700 Middlefield Road; Cubberley Community Center's Gym A, 4000 Middlefield Road; Ventura Community Center's Activity Center, 3990 Ventura Court and Stanford University's Tresidder Memorial Union at 459 Lagunita Drive.
Anyone voting in person in Santa Clara County will be asked to wear a face covering, maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others and use hand sanitizer before and after voting. To track your ballot, subscribe to "Where's My Ballot?" at wheresmyballot.sos.ca.gov.
There are two more ways to vote. Send a completed ballot by mail, postmarked on or before Nov. 3. For voters who are disabled or visually impaired, there is the county's Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System, in which voters can fill out a screen-readable ballot and print it out. More information is here.
If you have any questions about voting, go to the Registrar of Voters' site at sccgov.org/sites/rov.
From wiping down surfaces to providing answers on ballot security, volunteer election workers put their training into practice at Midpeninsula in-person voting centers that opened Oct. 31.
Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey has acknowledged concerns that have been raised about election security, however, she said safeguards have been put in place to ensure the integrity of the results.
A group of residents from Palo Alto's Channing House is preparing to mail 20,000 hand-addressed, first-class letters to registered voters in swing states urging them to vote.
About 75 residents of the senior living community have been working since January with the organization Vote Forward, which targets Democratic-leaning voters who live in swing states but are considered "relatively unlikely to vote."
Whether amid a deadly pandemic or catastrophic wildfires, the November general election must go on, and this year, more and more younger citizens are expected to help registered voters participate in their democracy by working at in-person voting centers.
Mail-in and absentee ballots improve voter turnout and make elections more democratic, but the argument that one political party would have an advantage over another in a mail-in ballot election doesn't appear credible, studies by multiple Stanford University researchers have found.
With the general election less than three months away, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, said that it was critical to support the U.S. Postal Service, which is expected to receive an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"This fall, the Postal Service will have another task that is vital to our democracy: ensuring the timely delivery of millions of absentee ballots for the general election," she said.
This page will be updated with more content in the coming weeks.
Find more of our 2020 election coverage here.