West Coast citizens who’ve lost their homes or fled to other locations still have opportunities to participate in the election. But they have to act quickly.

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Voting in this year’s election was already going to be hard enough due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now citizens on the West Coast have massive disruptions from climate-fueled fires and smoke added to the mix.

We reached out to the Secretary of State offices for California, Oregon and Washington for guidance on how people who have lost their homes or been displaced by the fires can make sure their votes count this season. Here’s how they responded. The Revelator will add other states to this list as necessary, especially as hurricane season develops.


“California already provides multiple options for voters to cast their ballots — which is extra important during an emergency such as a wildfire,” says Sam Mahood, press secretary for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who provided some tips for voters:

  • If you are unsure about how to vote after being displaced, or are worried you won’t get your vote-by-mail ballot, contact your county elections office ASAP. They handle the printing, mailing and processing of ballots and can help find a solution. In California ballots will begin to be mailed out to voters by Oct. 5. It should be noted that the U.S. Postal Service can’t forward your vote-by-mail ballot, so you will need to work to update your registration to have the correct mailing address.
  • If you’re displaced, you can update the mailing address of your voter registration online at registertovote.ca.gov
  • If you’ve already received your vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot you have multiple options for returning it:
    • All VBM ballots come with prepaid postage return envelopes. Just fill out your ballot, seal it, sign the return envelope, and drop it in the mail.
    • Completed VBM ballots can also be dropped off at any polling location, drop box or county elections office in the state. Elections officials will route your ballot to the appropriate county elections office to be counted.
  • We have also expanded access to Remote Access Vote-by-Mail (RAVBM) to all voters for this election. RAVBM allows voters to receive to receive their ballot electronically, mark their selections, print it out, and send it to their county elections official.
  • In-person voting locations will be available in every county. Voters can re-register to vote all the way through Election Day at voting locations and cast a ballot.


“The families and communities affected by the devastating wildfires across Oregon are in my thoughts and prayers,” Secretary of State Bev Clarno said in a press statement on Sept. 15. “For any Oregonians displaced from their home and concerned about voting in the General Election this November, rest assured we have a plan and are working closely with local election officials to ensure you can receive your ballot, vote, and make your voices heard.”

The state has posted an online FAQ for displaced voters, which is reprinted below:

How can I receive my ballot if I have been displaced by wildfires?

If I submit a change of address through USPS, will my ballot be forwarded to the new address?

No. Ballots are unable to be forwarded. It is one of the security features of our system. You must inform election officials of your temporary address using one of the methods above in order to have your ballot sent there.

Do I need to register to vote from my temporary address?

No. You do not need to re-register to vote if you are living somewhere temporarily because you have been displaced by wildfires. You just need to let us know where to mail your ballot by one of the methods above.

Will I be able to vote on the local measures where my permanent address is located, even if I am temporarily living outside that area?

Yes. The ballot you receive will contain the contests for your residential address, not your temporary mailing address.

What if my mailbox was destroyed?

If mail cannot be delivered to your home or mailbox, it will be held at your local post office and you can pick it up there.


  • Ballots for the 2020 November General Election in Washington state will be mailed by county election offices no later than Oct. 16.
  • At the time of registration, voters must provide their residential (physical) address. Voters can also provide a mailing address where they can receive mailed ballot materials. The mailing address may differ from their residential address.
  • A voter may make changes to their registration record up to eight days prior to Election Day by visiting VoteWA.gov or contacting their county elections office. Changes may include updating residential and mailing addresses, last name (have you been married or divorced since the last time you voted?), providing additional contact information and more.
  • At VoteWA.gov, voters can also access an online voter’s guide, update their registration information, track their ballot, and download and print a replacement ballot.

Now through Oct. 26, voters facing possible displacement due to wildfires and who have plans to receive mail at a location different than their currently listed mailing address in their voter registration record can update their mailing address by logging into VoteWA.gov. Voters are encouraged to make updates to their voter registration as soon as possible to ensure their ballot is delivered to the correct location on the first try. Ballots will be mailed no later than Oct. 16. Beginning Oct. 16 through Election Day, a voter may also log in to VoteWA.gov to download and print a replacement ballot, and return it according to the instructions specified. By-mail, drop box, and in-person return options are available. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked on or before Election Day in order to be counted.

After Oct. 26 a voter may visit any county elections office or voting center during business hours and through 8 p.m. Election Day to register to vote and receive a ballot or receive a replacement ballot if they’re already registered.

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John R. Platt

is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.