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Election 2020 is upon us. Do you have a plan to vote?

black t-shirt with words "Vote: Declare yourself" on it

“Vote!” by Sean Loosier is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I promise not to make political posts a regular event on this blog, but in the United States, voting is a civic duty, not simply a political one. The pandemic has triggered several changes in how voting will happen across the U.S. this year. In this post, I'll tell you about some resources that can help you sort out your best strategy for voting this year. 

Election 2020 is almost upon us.

Have you made your voting plan yet?

Depending on how the pandemic is doing where you are, your personal risk factors, and how long the lines are in your area in a normal election year, how you vote may need to look a little different this year.

For example, my 70+-year old father lives in a sleepy suburb in Texas. The voting lines in his area are never very long, even on Election Day, so his plan is to simply show up to vote in-person during early voting hours like he normally does. The main difference this year will be that when he goes, he’ll wear a mask, stand 6 feet apart from other voters and poll workers, touch as little as possible, and use hand sanitizer after.

My 70+-year old mother recently moved to a beach town in Florida. It’s her first election there, and the last time we talked, she didn’t really know what the lines would be like at her local polling place. In the past, she has typically voted in-person. But this year, given the pandemic and the potential for lines at her polling place, she’s planning to vote by mail. She’ll need to double-check her registration, request her absentee ballot by October 24, and mail it back no later than Tuesday, October 29. (Florida requires all absentee/vote-by-mail ballots to be received by November 3, and the USPS recommends that voters mail their ballots at least one week before their state’s deadline. But don’t worry if you miss that mailing deadline, Mom, because Florida will allow you to drop off your vote-by-mail ballot to your local elections office or early voting place instead. Don’t relax too much though, because early voting in Florida ends Saturday, October 31.)

When my husband and I lived in Massachusetts and later, Illinois, we also typically voted in person, generally on Election Day. But as registered voters in California, this year my husband and I will be automatically mailed a ballot about a month before the election. Given the delays the USPS has been experiencing in our area this summer, our plan is to fill out our ballots at home and take them to an official ballot drop box to deliver in person. (Like Florida, California allows us to either mail back our ballots or drop them off at our county’s elections office.)

No matter how you plan to vote, you’re going to need to do a few things to pull it off.

  1. Register to vote.
  2. Check your registration. If you’ve already registered, it’s a good idea to check your registration at least once between now and Election Day to verify that you still appear on your state’s voting rolls.
  3. If you plan to vote in-person, find your local polling place and its operating hours for voting either early or on Election Day.
  4. If you plan to vote by mail, know your state’s deadlines and rules for ballot applications and returns. Per USPS, if you are planning to vote by mail, allow a week to receive your ballot and another week for it to arrive by Election Day.
  5. Vote (remember to double-check your ballot before returning it).

Resources to get all this done

Your state or local election office website: Register to vote, check your registration, get the facts about election procedures, polling places, & times

Your local elections office is perhaps the most important resource you’ll have when it comes to voting this year. That’s the best place to learn about the election process in your state. Theoretically, their website will have the most up-to-date and accurate information about voter registration, deadlines and rules for requesting and returning absentee/vote-by-mail ballots, as well as directions and operating hours for your local polling places for in-person voting during early voting hours and on Election Day itself. (Find your state or local election office website.)

Some states also offer a method for voters to track whether or not their absentee ballot has been received. Figuring out whether your state is one of them can be as simple as a Google search. My search for “California ballot tracking” pulled up the “Where’s My Ballot?” webpage on the California Secretary of State’s website, where I can sign up for SMS alerts that will notify me when my vote-by-mail ballot is mailed, received, and counted. A second search for “New Mexico ballot tracking” led me to the Voter Information Portal on New Mexico Secretary of State website, where I can check my registration status, ballot, and find my local polling place.

Even if you are a seasoned voter, it’s a good idea to check your local government’s election site at least once between now and Election Day to see how/if the pandemic is affecting your state’s election process. Several states that require excuses to vote absentee/by-mail will allow voters to use the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to vote absentee. The vast majority of states allow registered voters to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to vote absentee. Only Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina won’t.

In the hopes of safely boosting voter turnout during this pandemic, several other states, including California, New Jersey, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Vermont, and New Jersey, have opted to start mailing all active, registered voters a ballot in advance of the election. (Washington, Colorado, and Oregon already routinely mailed ballots to their registered voters before COVID.)

Vote.gov: Register to vote and connect to your local elections office

Vote.gov is an online voter information portal run by the U.S. government. On its home page, you will find a simple tool that will point you to your local government’s website or office so that you can register to vote in your state or territory, check your registration, or find a local polling place.

Vote.gov also provides general information about voting on Election Day, voter ID requirements, and other information about the election process. At its heart, though, Vote.gov is essentially a clearinghouse to connect voters with their local elections officials. It’s really quite convenient.

Vote.org: Register to vote, check your registration, find your local polling place, double-check your state’s deadlines, and more

Vote.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, non-governmental voting registration and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organization. Rather than direct you to your local government office, Vote.org offers an online voter registration tool right on its website. It also provides information about vote-by-mail, an in-person polling place locator, the opportunity to sign up to serve as a poll worker, and a pointer to the U.S. 2020 Census website so that you can fill out your Census form, if you haven’t already. You can even sign up for election reminders to reduce the chance that you’ll forget to execute your voting plan.

Because Vote.org is not run by our federal or your local government, it’s a good idea to read their privacy policy before you share any personal information with them.

“Vote” by H2Woah! is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Other sources for general information on voting, voting on Election Day, and/or vote by mail

Consolidated 50-State Election Season Calendar: The New York Times has published a consolidated calendar of the upcoming Election 2020 season, including the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, as well as individual state deadlines for absentee voting and vote-by-mail.

USPS guidance for meeting vote-by-mail deadlines: You may have noticed that mail has slowed down a bit in your area this summer. Even in normal election years, simply following your state’s deadlines for vote-by-mail may not be enough to ensure that USPS delivers your ballot in time to be counted. In general, the USPS recommends that you mail your completed ballot at least seven days before your state’s deadline.

U.S. News’s Guide to Voting by Mail in 2020: A summary of the various state rules and deadlines governing vote-by-mail in 2020.

So, what’s your plan for voting?

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