Permissible and Prohibited Election Activities
Serving approximately 500,000 registered voters, the Department of Elections makes a concerted effort to operate in an open and transparent manner in order to inspire public confidence in the integrity of elections in San Francisco. To that end, the Department invites interested members of the public to observe elections processes in the context of safeguarding voting system security and preserving voter privacy. This page is intended to provide a summary of some of the important rules and regulations related to permissible and prohibited election activitiess.
Observation is Permissible
In general, all election processes are open to public observation and all San Francisco residents, members of the media, campaigns, candidates, and any other interested parties are encouraged to observe these processes. However, all observers must comply with local, state, and federal law, and campaign supporters, media staff, and members of the public alike are expected to conduct their observation activities in a safe and respectful manner.
To help potential observers familiarize themselves with election processes and observation guidelines, the Department publishes the Observer Guide that includes observer rights and responsibilities, as determined by the California Secretary of State and California Elections Code, and a description of observable activities that take place before, on, and after Election Day. For more details, please visit Observe the Election Process page.
Exit Polling is Permissible
Exit polling is the surveying of voters after they leave a voting site. This activity is generally permissible, along with the taking of voluntary “ballot selfies” and similar recordings, because state law allows a voter to “voluntarily disclose how he or she voted if that voluntary act does not violate any other law.” Per current California Secretary of State guidance, members of the media and others conducting exit polls may do so at least 25 feet from a voting area, in a quiet, non-disruptive manner.
Electioneering is Prohibited
Electioneering, which constitutes criminal activity, is the circulation of a petition as well as any type of advocacy for or against any candidate or measure on the ballot within the immediate vicinity of a person in line to cast their ballot or within 100 feet of the entrance of a polling place, voting center, curbside voting or ballot drop box. Per state law, any person who engages in electioneering may be guilty of a misdemeanor; violations are subject to fine and/or imprisonment.
ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES ARE PROHIBITED within the immediate vicinity of a person in line to cast their ballot or within 100 feet of the entrance of a polling place, voting center, curbside voting or drop box:
- Ask a person to vote for or against any candidate or ballot measure.
- Distribute or display any item including a candidate’s name, image, or logo.
- Block access to or loiter near any ballot drop boxes or voting areas.
- Provide any material or audible information for or against any candidate or ballot measure near any polling place, voting center, or ballot drop box.
- Circulate any petitions, including for initiatives, referenda, recall, or candidate nominations.
- Distribute, display, or wear anything including a candidate’s name, image, logo, and/or support or oppose any candidate or ballot measure.
- Display information or speak to a voter about the voter’s eligibility to vote.
To view the Notice Regarding Prohibition of Electioneering (available in multiple languages), please visit the Secretary of State’s website.
Corruption of the Voting Process is Prohibited
Corruption of the voting process, which constitutes criminal activity, can take many forms, including but not limited to voter fraud, bribery, and interference with election processes or voter rights. Per state law, any person who engages in corruption of the voting process may be guilty of a felony; violations are subject to fine and/or imprisonment.
ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES ARE PROHIBITED:
- Commit or attempt to commit election fraud.
- Provide or attempt to provide compensation or bribery to induce a person to vote or refrain from voting.
- Illegally vote or attempt to vote or aide another to vote when not entitled to vote.
- Engage in electioneering, voter obstruction, or unauthorized photography at voting sites.
- Challenge a person’s right to vote or prevent voters from voting or delay the process of voting.
- Fraudulently advise any person that he or she is not eligible to vote or is not registered to vote.
- Attempt to ascertain how a voter voted their ballot.
- Possess or arrange for anyone to possess a firearm in or near a polling place (with some exceptions).
- Appear or arrange for anyone to appear in police or security guard uniform (with some exceptions).
- Tamper or interfere with any component of a voting system or alter the returns of an election.
- Forge, counterfeit, or tamper with the returns of an election.
- Tamper with, destroy, or alter any polling list, official ballot, or ballot drop box.
- Display any unofficial ballot collection container that may deceive a voter into believing it is an official ballot drop box.
- Tamper or interfere with copy of the results of votes cast.
- Coerce or deceive a person who cannot read or an elder into voting contrary to their intent.
- Act as an election officer if you are not an election officer.
To view the Notice Regarding Corruption of the Voting Process (available in multiple languages), please visit the Secretary of State’s website.
To protect the rights of voters and help ensure all votes are able to mark and cast their ballots independently and privately without any interference, the Department of Elections assigns nearly 80 roving field staff to monitor activities in San Francisco’s polling places on Election Day. If you witness electioneering at a polling place, please inform the Inspector on site, who is trained to politely remind any individual or group engaging in electioneering activities of the rules.
If you witness election interference, voter intimidation, or fraud, please contact the Department of Elections at (415) 554-4375 or the District Attorney’s Voter Fraud Hotline at (628) 652-4368. (If notified, the Department of Elections will in turn notify the District Attorney). Voters may also call the Secretary of State's confidential toll-free Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).