How to Vote:
What’s on the Ballot?

Once you’re registered to vote, you’ll be mailed a voter information guide from your elections officials describing what’s on the ballot and providing voting instructions. You can also talk to people you trust about the candidates and ballot measures. Maybe you trust an elder or a close friend, an organization, or a political party you identify with.

Vote411 California and Ballotpedia are also helpful, nonpartisan online guides to elections covering federal, state, and local races in the state of California. Users can see their personalized sample ballot by entering their address and can get information on candidates, measures, and who supports them.

Understanding the ballot

District Attorney

The DA decides which criminal cases to prosecute and guides sentencing. The DA reviews complaints against police officers and decides whether or not to prosecute them. This person can have an enormous impact on your life.


The sheriff runs the county jails and is also in charge of enforcing the law throughout the county, just like a chief of police. Deputies arrest and detain suspects and patrol the county.

City Council

Your city council representative makes important decisions about the future of your neighborhood, including how to spend local tax dollars. They distribute funds for road repair, parks, and development, and oversee police.


Your governor signs bills into law (and can veto bills as well). They make important appointments to state agencies, including the state’s school superintendent, and can grant commutations and pardons to prisoners.

School Board

School board members hire/fire the superintendent (who sets overall district policies, including disciplinary rules), set the budget, approve contracts for teachers, and decide where to open or close schools.

U.S. Congress/Senate

Members of Congress and the Senate write laws—any of which can have a profound impact on you. Your representatives can help if you’re experiencing a problem with a federal agency, like the IRS, Social Security, or veterans’ issues.


Judges have enormous authority over our lives by interpreting the law, deciding what evidence is heard in a case, and deciding how long to sentence someone convicted of a crime. Since so few people vote for judges, those who do can have a lot of influence.


The president is Commander in Chief of the armed forces and plays a huge role in shaping responses to international crises. They symbolize the goals and beliefs of the country and make sure the government does its job.

Local & State Initiatives and Bonds

Initiatives can have a dramatic impact on our lives. Citizens or the state legislature can put a measure on the ballot for people to vote on. If they’re passed, they become law. They can change the tax system or the criminal legal system, for instance, including upholding or ending the death penalty or sentencing guidelines. Bonds ask voters to decide how public money will be spent and can have a positive or negative impact on your community.