The 2020 election will be unlike any other election in U.S. history. States have been working to find ways to protect voters’ health amid the coronavirus pandemic, from stocking up on hand sanitizer to arranging to use NBA arenas as polling places. But the biggest difference is the increase in mail-in voting.
Voting procedures vary slightly in every county and state—but on the whole, this year it will be easier to vote by mail than in the past. States are relaxing eligibility restrictions, and some are sending ballot request forms or even ballots to all registered voters. That means more people will be voting by mail in November than ever before, millions of them for the very first time.
If you want to vote by mail, follow these steps:
1. Register to vote.
Step one is the same whether you want to vote in person or by mail. You need to get registered. You cannot vote in any way without being on the rolls. Start by going to your local elections website. To find the correct site, head to Vote.org, a nonpartisan clearinghouse for voting information. Just enter your state and county, and it will send you information to get registered.
2. Request your mail-in ballot.
Next, you need to request a mail-in ballot. Because of the coronavirus, many states have relaxed requirements for obtaining an absentee ballot. Most of the time it's as simple as filling out a form online. On rare occasions, you may have to email your local election official or fill out a paper form. Even if you're in one of the few states that still require an excuse to vote by mail, that shouldn't stop you from trying. A lot of people qualify, they just don't realize it.
Some states are universal mail ballot states. If you live in one and you are a registered voter, your local election official will automatically mail you a ballot, so it’s very important that your local election official has your correct address. You can check this online. Again, Vote.org is a great place to start.
The closer we get to Election Day, the more likely it is that voting officials will be overwhelmed by paperwork. So request the ballot as soon as possible. Don’t wait!
3. Fill out your ballot—correctly.
Voters must fill out and sign their ballots correctly for them to be counted. Both steps seem fairly straightforward, but take an extra minute to read the instructions so that your local official doesn’t have to contact you, or worse, so that your ballot doesn’t get tossed.
If the ballot says fill in the oval, fill in the oval! Don't use a checkmark or circle a name.
Remember that you must sign the outer envelope, not the ballot itself. Make sure you sign that envelope! Don’t use your grocery store signature. Use your official signature to make sure the ballot gets counted.
4. Return your ballot.
After you finish filling out and signing your ballot, make sure you give the postal service time to get it to your election official. In many jurisdictions, you can track your ballot online as you would a package. Don’t fill it out and then just let it sit on the kitchen counter.
Some people are worried that the postal service will be overwhelmed with ballots in October and early November. With that in mind, many jurisdictions are offering ballot drop-off locations, either in designated drop boxes or at a precinct or polling place. You can also drop off your ballot at your local election official’s office.
5. Help a friend.
Once you've figured out this system, and especially if you’re in a place where people don’t usually vote by mail, think about helping a friend register or offering assistance on social media. You could be a great resource for people who either don’t know what to do or are intimidated by the process.