Election Day—November 3—is still coming, pandemic or no. Don’t let changes to the voting process this year keep your voice from being heard.

By Lisa Milbrand
August 25, 2020
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This year, you may have to DIY “I voted” stickers as more Americans than ever get their vote on well in advance of Election Day (that’s Tuesday, November 3, if it isn’t already marked on your calendar). If you’re one of the millions of Americans who might be navigating a new way to vote this year to help reduce crowding and wait times at polling places during the pandemic, here’s how to get started.

1

If you haven’t yet registered to vote, there is still time in most states to fill out the form—Vote.gov connects you with your state’s elections site so you can start the process. If you’re currently registered to vote, double check that you’re still on the voter rolls. (Some states have been purging voters from their voter rolls, so it’s always a good idea to check to make sure you’re still registered at your address.)

2

While candidate sites share their biographies and positions, the nonpartisan site Vote Smart offers a deeper dive all in one place, giving you insight into how candidates voted or stand on particular issues, a peek at all of their social media posts and the text of their speeches, and information about who is donating toward their campaign. (In other words, this is the place to look for the unvarnished, fluff-free info on your candidates.) If you’re still undecided, their Vote Easy tool has you answer questions about your beliefs on a variety of issues to help you find the presidential or congressional candidate most in line with your way of thinking.

3

Public questions are an oft-overlooked part of the voting process. As several states this year decide about legalizing recreational marijuana, Mississippians vote on a new state flag, and Floridians vote on increasing the minimum wage, just to name a few, Ballotpedia is a great source for what questions and measures will be on your ballot and for information about the issue so you can make an informed decision.

4

The coronavirus pandemic has upended a lot right now, and voting is no exception. Many states have adjusted their rules regarding absentee or mail-in voting to minimize the number of people at the polls on Election Day. Nine states are sending mail-in ballots to every voter, and 34 states are now allowing people to cite coronavirus as the reason they would like an absentee ballot (and nine of those states are automatically sending every voter an application for an absentee ballot). The site for the National Association of Secretaries of State has links to the state sites where you can look for information about your polling place, how to register to vote, and your state’s stance on absentee or mail-in voting.

5

If you’re mail-in voting for the first time, follow the directions carefully to ensure your vote doesn’t get discounted. The most common issues with ballots include failing to sign in the right spot (on the envelope, not the ballot itself) or marking your vote incorrectly (such as using a check mark when the instructions say to fill in a circle).

6

With all the news about delays at the post office—and many states shifting to mail-in voting—it’s important to keep deadlines in mind and plan ahead to make sure your vote arrives on time to be counted.

Some states, like New Jersey and Oregon, set up special ballot drop boxes at several locations so you can avoid the post office altogether, while every state that allows absentee or mail-in ballots lets you drop them off directly at the election official’s office in advance of the election. Many states are also offering some method for in-person early voting, if you want to get it done in advance of November 3 and don’t want to deal with a mail-in or absentee ballot.

If you’re using the mail to get your ballot in, experts recommend that you do it as early as possible (like the day your mail-in ballot arrives in the mail)—and see if your state is one of the many that allow you to check to make sure that your ballot arrived. That way, you can rest assured that you’ve done your part on election night.