How to Vote This Fall

I’m just gonna come right out and ask…do you know how to vote this year? If you (like me!) are more than a little confused, you’re not alone. So, we compiled a HUGE list of common questions and brought them to Andrea Hailey, the CEO of Vote.org (one of the largest voting-rights advocacy groups in the U.S.) to help us put together an FAQ on voting in 2020…

In a nutshell, yes, things are a lot more complicated this time. But that doesn’t change your constitutional right to vote. And while voting is always important, it really is more important than ever this year. “This is not a fire drill,” Hailey stresses. “We say every election year is important — this really is the real thing.”

Roger that! Let’s DO THIS. But first, let’s figure out how.

Is it too late to register to vote? How do I know if I’m registered?
No, it’s not too late! As of today, September 9th, you still have time — but not a lot. Many state deadlines are only a few weeks away, so if you need to register, do it today. The good news is that you have options: Depending on where you live, you may be able to register online or in-person, as well as by mail. Some states also have same-day registration, but the requirements vary. Here’s a list of registration deadlines and requirements. To be safe, always double check your own local election official’s office or website for any recent changes. This link will direct you to it.

You can check your registration here, or on your local Secretary of State’s website. If you are a U.S. citizen abroad, or in the military, you can find your information via Overseas Vote Foundation.

I just moved to a new state. Do I vote in my new state or old one?
You vote wherever your residency is. So, if you’ve just moved and want to vote there, then register as a resident of your new state ASAP. If you move after the registration deadline, you should still be able to vote in your new state provided you have adequate proof of residency. It all depends on the state’s voter ID laws, which you can check here.

What about college students who are going to out-of-state schools?
It’s pretty much the same rules as above, in that it just depends on where their residency is. If you’re going to school in New York (like, in person — not virtually), but you’re a resident of Indiana, then you can either request an absentee ballot from Indiana or change your residency to New York and vote there. FYI, a lot of schools have prepared for this and should be able to provide you with all the info you need. Many are proactively reaching out to students with the necessary info, but it couldn’t hurt to call ahead if you haven’t moved in yet!

Is there going to be in-person voting this year? If so, where do I do it?
Yes, there will be in-person voting this year. As with any other year, be sure to check your polling place in advance. Here is a handy list of polling-site locators by state. Click on your state and you’ll be directed to the appropriate site for your state, and prompted to enter your information. You can use this list to check poll-site opening and closing times by state, too.

Can I vote by mail? Also, is mail-in voting the same as absentee voting?
First of all, yes, they are basically the same thing; it’s just confusing because the semantics can vary by state. But they all have an option to, as Andrea calls it, “vote in your pajamas.” Typically, you need to meet certain requirements to get a mail-in ballot (being out of the country, having a disability, etc.). This year, many states (but not all) have eliminated or changed their requirements, so that anyone who wants to vote by mail can do so. As ever, it varies. States generally fall into three categories this year:

“No excuse” states allow everyone to request a mail-in ballot, no questions asked.
“Excuse” states require you to provide an approved excuse when applying for an absentee ballot. In many (but not all) of those states, COVID-19 is considered a valid “excuse.”
“All-mail” states are automatically sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter. Only a handful of states are doing this, so if you want a mail-in ballot, then assume you have to apply for one. Here’s the link to do so.

One more important thing: Some states mandate that mail-in ballots be signed by witnesses or notaries, or sent with a copy of your ID. Be sure to check your state’s requirements before sending yours in.

I got a mail-in ballot for the primaries. Will I automatically get one for the general election?
Nope. Unless you live in an “all mail” state, you will have to request a mail-in ballot for the general election.

When is the deadline to request a mail-in ballot?
The technical deadline varies, but Andrea stresses that the real deadline is now. “This is going to be the biggest crunch in this election,” she says, for two reasons: “The slowdowns with the Postal Service, and the increased demand for mail-in ballots.” Some states are used to handling a lot of mail-in ballots, she says. But for most, it’s going to be a huge and sudden adjustment. “Some states are going to go from 2% mail-in ballots to 60%.” And if election officials are flooded with requests coming in at the last minute, it’s going to be really difficult for them to get all those ballots out in a timely manner.

“You know how we had to flatten the COVID curve? We also have to flatten the request curve,” Andrea says. Getting your application in early helps ensure that your vote gets counted, and that your fellow citizens’ votes are counted too. If you’re wondering what you can do to help with this election? Here you go: Request your mail-in ballot today.

When is the deadline to return my mail-in ballot?
Same answer: As soon as you possibly can. There are different requirements for each state, but the longer you wait, the higher the risk of disenfranchisement for you and others.

I’ve already requested my mail-in ballot. When will I get it?
States typically start sending out ballots around 30 to 45 days prior to the election (here’s a list of mailing timelines by state). But again, it’s 2020. Officials are going to be dealing with an unprecedented number of requests, along with all sorts of other logistical challenges. It’s hard to know exactly when your ballot will arrive, but it absolutely doesn’t hurt to call and check in with your election officials (again, here’s the link to get their info). If others in your community have already gotten their ballots and you haven’t, or if the election is less than three weeks aways, definitely call.

FYI, if you do suspect something has gone awry with your ballot — or if you’re facing any other issues with voting, you can also call Vote.org’s Election Protection Hotline at 866-687-8683.

What if I request a mail-in ballot, then change my mind and decide to vote in person instead. Is that allowed?
This one is dicey. Technically, you always have a right to vote, but doing something like this can make things very complicated. And this is really not the year to make things more complicated. “We always tell people to plan their vote, and then stick to that plan,” Andrea says. If you get a mail-in ballot, you should use that ballot.

I’m worried about sending my ballot in via USPS. Are there other ways I can turn in a mail-in ballot?
Most states allow you to drop off a mail-in ballot by hand at a designated drop-off location. In many cases, it’s the office of your local election official, or a ballot drop box. To find out the options for your state and county, click here.

Where can I find out about early voting? Should I do that if I can?
The majority of states do have early voting, and it’s a GREAT option for those that want or need to vote at a polling place. “For those that are going to vote in person, I highly recommend that they go ahead and get their vote in early,” says Andrea. “You’ll avoid a lot of the congestion and lines.” Voting early also eases a bit of the burden on the system on election day, so if you can do so safely, it’s an excellent option. “Go ahead and get it done, and then organize all your friends to vote.” Here’s a list of early voting dates by state. I mean, come on! No lines!

PS: If you wanted to vote by mail due to COVID, but live in one of the states that does not recognize COVID as a valid “excuse,” Andrea suggests this as the next best option. It’s not the same as voting at home, but it involves far less exposure to others.

I keep hearing that we won’t have any results on election night. Is it really going to take days or weeks?
Yes, probably! And that’s a good thing! “Americans are used to knowing the results of an election by the 11 o’clock news, and this year we shouldn’t have that expectation. We should go in with the expectation that all those mail-in ballots are still coming in and still being counted. And we want every vote counted, right? That’s what’s important.” Given the percentage of mail-in ballots expected this year, it will likely take a few days or a week before we have results. I KNOW. It may be stressful as hell, “but it’s not a cause for concern,” Andrea says. “It means votes are being counted the way they should be.”

I heard they’re looking for poll workers. How can I apply?
Yes, there is a national shortage of poll-workers this year — and they place a crucial role in enabling in-person voting. (And many people need to vote in person, including those with certain disabilities, and those who need language assistance.) “Most poll workers are, you know, our aunties and uncles and grandparents — people who’ve been doing this job forever and volunteer every year,” says Andrea. Many of them are in the COVID high-risk age group of 65 or older, and simply can’t risk the exposure. “It’s going to be incumbent on a new generation of people to step up and become poll workers.” If you’re interested, here’s a simple guide on how it works and how to apply.

I’m so panicked about this election. I’ve got my voting plan in place but I keep hearing from friends and relatives who just seem so disillusioned that they’re like, “Why bother?” I don’t know what to tell them. How do I help encourage people to vote?
First, tell them they’re not alone. They are among millions of Americans feeling the same way “And that exhaustion people are feeling? That disaffectedness, that distrust — that’s on purpose,” says Andrea. “That is a suppression tactic, in and of itself.” Just as there are advocates like Andrea, working to simplify voting for everyone, there are plenty of folks within our political system who want us to feel confused and cynical about voting.

“The only way to counter that is with excitement — excitement about being able to build the world you want to build,” Andrea says. “I always try to remind people, just because you don’t vote doesn’t mean you don’t get leadership. And as this year has taught us, it’s not just your national leaders that matter. Your mayor matters, your DA matters, the judges you elect matter.” These are the people who will shape the policies that affect your life — and everyone else’s lives too. “Even if you can’t do this for yourself, there are a lot of people in this country who need you to show up for them.”

Any other questions you have? Let’s do this!

P.S. “Five things I want to tell my white friends,” and who Joanna will be voting for.

(Photo by Sean Locke/Stocksy.)