Human Voter Guide: Primary recap and tips for November

Voters enter a polling place inside Barrio Action Youth & Family Center in El Sereno on Tuesday afternoon, June 7, 2016, during the California primary election.
Voters enter a polling place inside Barrio Action Youth & Family Center in El Sereno on Tuesday afternoon, June 7, 2016, during the California primary election.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Millions of Californians took to the polls last week to vote in California's primary election. The big day caused confusion for some and KPCC received numerous questions about voting and problems at the polls. 

Here are answers to those questions as well as tips on how to prepare for the Nov. 8 general election.

The Human Voter Guide, our Q&A segment on Take Two, aims to help you wade through California's confusing election rules and voting complexities. This is the fifth segment in the series.

If you have a question, leave a voice mail at or text 323-538-5722. The segment will be on hiatus until closer to the November election, but feel free to leave questions in the meantime. 

Q: I’m listed under no party preference so I tried to vote for a Democrat and what the polling place did was give me a provisional ballot and I felt skeptical. Was it right of them to give me a provisional ballot?

In most cases, people who aren’t affiliated with a political party were supposed to be able to get crossover ballots at their polling location. It would have enabled them to vote in the Democratic presidential primary. Crossover ballot are counted sooner than provisional ballots. (For more details on crossover ballots, check out the third segment in this series.)

We know there was a group of people on election day who were given provisional ballots when they should have received crossover ballots.

Election officials in Orange and LA counties have said this wasn't a widespread problem. 

But here’s the takeaway if you were in this group: in California, all provisional ballots are counted. Historically in L.A. County, for example, about 90 percent of provisional ballots are counted and validated.

Casting a provisional ballot simply means that your ballot will be counted toward the end of the process to ensure that your vote is valid.

But confusion around provisional ballots is a challenge. People who study voter turnout say that experiences like this discourage voters and make them less likely to participate in the future.

Q: When I check online for the status of my mail in ballot I get “N/A” as in not counted or registered… So given that my ballot was put in, supposedly counted, why am I still receiving an “N/A” status?

This voter is referring to the fact that you can check the status of your mail in ballot online. The Secretary of State's website has information on how to do this based on what county you live in as well as where to check the status of your provisional ballot. 

Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley said voters shouldn't worry if their vote hasn't been processed yet.

"I would say generally that you can expect an update within about 10 days after election day. However, in California, because of the volume we deal with, the process of finalizing the election can take place up to 30 days after election day," he said. 

To summarize: don’t panic if you’re still seeing an "N/A" status. It could take up until the beginning of July for your voting status to update.

As of Tuesday evening, about 2 million votes in California were still being processed. 

Q: Why does it take so long to count all the votes?

In California, the Secretary of State has about a month to process all ballots. Counties have to submit their results to the state by July 8, and the state has until July 15 to certify the statewide results.

Part of the reason it takes so long is because California is a big state, and it takes time to deliver and count all of the results.

Kelley also points out that recently there's been a big increase in the number of vote by mail ballots that are dropped off at polling places in California. This extends the time it takes to count ballots.

Q: Is it legal for the polling places to have a sign on each voting booth that labels the voter as a Democrat or Republican?

Yes, it is legal. This practice is used in L.A. County because the physical ballot marking devices, those contraptions that you mark your votes with, align differently based on which party's ballot you're using. So the reason you go into a booth for either party is because you need to make sure that your voting device aligns correctly with your ballot.

Most counties in California do not use this system. 

Q: I wanted to vote in the primary but missed the registration deadline. When is the deadline for November?

Voter registration can be tricky because it varies greatly by state. Here’s what you need to know:

California has a 15-day voter registration deadline. That’s 15 days before the election you wish to vote in, or Oct. 24 for the Nov. 8 general election. So you have plenty of time to get registered and we recommend you do so early to avoid problems.

The easiest way to register is online

Series: Human Voter Guide

We're in the middle of one of the most contentious elections we've seen in a long time, so there's a lot of interest in voting this year. But there's also a lot of confusion. To help clear the way, we're introducing KPCC's Human Voter Guide, a series of questions-and-answers about the California elections.

Have a question? Email our senior political reporter Mary Plummer, tweet her @maryplummer or leave a voice mail or text at 323-538-5722.