Regardless of your political views, you most likely view the 2020 General Election on November 3rd as one of the most crucial in our nation’s history. There is a lot at stake, from economic policies and America’s place on the global stage to social wellness programs and the federal response to a deadly pandemic. The most important thing you can do as an American is to make your voice heard at the ballot box.
With the General Election just a matter of weeks away, now’s the time to make sure you’re properly registered, fully informed about the issues and candidates, and understand how the process works, especially considering the unique circumstances created by COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines.
The following checklist will help you get prepared for election day, including considerations for how you vote, making sure your registration is current, voting safely at in-person polling places, and more.
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How do you plan to vote in the 2020 election?
The two main ways you can vote are in person at your assigned polling place or by mail. Within those larger categories, you may have the opportunity to vote in person earlier than election day or deposit your mail-in ballot into a secure drop box. It’s important to understand that your options, deadlines, and other rules will vary according to your state.
You should check your state’s official election office website for details, but these are the main factors you’ll want to consider with respect to how you vote (remember, many states have made special changes to account for the pandemic):
Voting by mail
- Mail-in ballots (also called “absentee ballots”) are available in all voting districts, but five states require a valid excuse other than coronavirus-related concerns in order to qualify.
- Several states automatically send mail-in ballots or vote-by-mail applications to registered voters, while others require voters to actively register absentee (or vote-by-mail).
- Some states require you to enclose a photocopy of your ID along with your ballot, have it signed by a witness or notary, or some other security-related requirement.
- Some states require mail-in ballots to be postmarked by the date of the General Election (Nov. 3, 2020), while others require them to be received by then.
- Most states (and D.C.) provide drop boxes, secured and monitored by various means, where mail-in ballots may be deposited postage-free. Some states prohibited their use, citing (without evidence) the potential for fraud.
Voting in person
- Most states require you to present valid identification (some states require a photo ID) to vote.
- If you’re told your name is not on the list, ask for a provisional ballot, also called “challenge” or “affidavit” ballots.
- It is illegal for anyone to harrass you or interfere with your access to the ballot box, nor is there any language or civics test required to vote.
- If you’re still in line when the polls close, you still have the right to cast your vote.
- Most states (and D.C.) offer the option of voting in person earlier than the day of the General Election.
Voting from out of the country
- Whether you’re a military service member, a U.S. citizen living abroad, or otherwise out of the country on election day, you’re entitled to vote.
- U.S. citizens voting abroad must submit a Federal Post Card Application to their local election officials each year at least 45 days prior to the election.
- Either return your completed ballot by your state’s deadline for mail-in ballots, or (if you haven’t received your ballot within 30 days before the election) use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.
Are you properly registered?
Each state has its own deadlines for registering to vote, which may vary by whether you register online, in-person, or by mail. Some states also allow for same-day registration during early voting and/or on election day. You may have been automatically registered to vote (with either an opt-in or opt-out option) when you applied for your driver’s license or engaged with another state agency.
Consider the following:
- If you’ve registered in the past but recently moved, changed your name, or made other major changes, you’ll need to update your information for the 2020 election (confirm that your ID matches your registration information, if applicable).
- If you’re planning to vote by mail, keep in mind that you may need to register and request a mail-in ballot earlier than if you were voting in person.
- If you miss the deadline, you still may have the option of same-day registration or voting with a provisional ballot.
- If you’re not sure whether you’re registered, you can check your voter registration status here.
Do you know what’s on the ballot?
It’s your responsibility as a U.S. citizen to be informed about the issues and candidates that will appear on your ballot. While the President of the United States will be at the top of every ticket, you’ll also have the option to vote for other federal, state, and local offices. In addition, there may be state and local ballot measures to consider. Your best approach is to do this research early, make your decisions ahead of the election, and—if voting in person—write them down to avoid confusion at the ballot box.
Need help making informed choices? These resources may help:
- Ballot Measure Scorecard 2020 (Ballotpedia)
- Every Candidate and Referendum, Explained (BallotReady)
- Compare 2020 Presidential Candidate Positions (Britannica / ProCon)
Are you prepared to vote safely in this election?
Since this is the 2020 election, we should cover best practices for staying healthy and avoiding the unnecessary spread of the novel coronavirus at your polling place. Some states are mailing ballots to all eligible voters and won’t be offering the option of in-person voting.
If you have the option of voting in person and choose to do so, you should understand the following:
- The CDC has provided guidance for 2020 poll workers, including a mask requirement, placement of hand sanitizer at every step of the process, encouragement of frequent handwashing, routine disinfection of surfaces, and social distancing.
- Make sure you properly wear a mask, avoid touching surfaces, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others, even when standing in line to vote. Some locations may facilitate “curbside” voting from your automobile.
- Don’t take it upon yourself to disinfect or wipe down voting machines, as it could damage the equipment.
- Avoid crowds if at all possible by voting early, during off-peak times, or by mail.
- Consider bringing your own ball point pen or stylus (if using a touchscreen).
Be prepared, be safe, and make sure your voice is heard
Democracy requires participation, and voting is the very least we can do to ensure our voice is heard and our values are represented. While the process can sometimes be tedious and complicated, we owe it to ourselves to take the time to get prepared. If you have additional questions or concerns about your right to vote, access to the polls, or related legal matters, don’t hesitate to ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.