Posted on August 20, 2020
2020 Voter Checklist: What you need to know about voting in this election
The 2020 election will be like no other in modern history. As Americans reel from a global pandemic that could make in-person voting risky, the current occupant of the White House is taking unprecedented steps to undermine the election, upend our democracy and make it harder for us to vote by mail.
Despite all the challenges this year, we can — and must — cast our ballots. It’s simply too important, and the stakes are too high. But the rules and deadlines for registering, requesting a ballot and casting a vote vary from state to state. That’s why we’ve compiled a simple checklist, with help from our grantee partners at Vote.org, for you to use and share to ensure you and your friends can vote safely and securely this election season.
1. Check your voter registration
Deadlines and requirements for voter registration vary state by state. And even though you may have registered to vote in the past, it’s possible that you may not be on the voter rolls any longer due to a variety of factors.
According to our allies at the Brennan Center for Justice, the prevalence of voter purges — “the often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists” — is on the rise. The organization found that states removed nearly 16 million voters from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, a 33 percent increase over the 2006 and 2008, with the highest increase found in states with a history of voting discrimination.
2. Register to vote
If you find that you’re not registered to vote, it’s time to register now. While some states allow you to register the same day you vote (many do not), same-day registration won’t be feasible if you decide to vote by mail, so we suggest you register as soon as possible.
3. Request your absentee or mail-in ballot
Now that you’re registered, it’s time to request your ballot. While some states are proactively taking steps to send absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters, many are not, so it’s important to learn the rules in your state and request a ballot if you need one. (By the way, despite the rhetoric you may hear, the terms “mail in voting” and “absentee voting” are essentially the same thing.)
We believe that no one should have to risk their health and safety to exercise their right to cast a vote. That’s why mail-in voting is so important this election for those who choose to use it. While Trump falsely calls mail-in voting “fraudulent” (although he requested a mail-in ballot himself) and plays political games with postal service operations, it’s critical that you request your ballot as soon as possible in case of delays or other issues with the mail.
Request your absentee or mail-in ballot. (You will need to print and mail your application to complete this step)
4. Return your mail-in ballot
With potential mail delays leading up to Election Day, it’s possible that your ballot may not be counted if your local officials receive it after November 3. That’s why it’s essential to mail your ballot back as soon as you can. Here are the receipt and postmark deadlines for each state.
But mailing your ballot is not the only way to return it. Many states allow you to return your ballot in person to local officials, and some states and municipalities are setting up ballot drop boxes so you can safely return your ballots. Depending on the laws in your state, you may also be eligible to allow another person to return your ballot. Here are some rules governing who can collect and return an absentee ballot other than the voter.
Note: Despite viral social media posts claiming your return envelope requires multiple stamps lest it won’t be delivered, a recent fact-check found that the USPS will deliver your ballot regardless of postage. Our allies at the ACLU have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black Voters Matter (a CREDO grantee on this month’s ballot) challenging the constitutionality of requiring voters to buy stamps to vote, equating the mandate to a poll tax.
5. Find your polling place
If you are unable or do not want to cast your ballot by mail, or if you do not receive your mail-in ballot in time or worried it won’t be counted, you should still have the option to vote in-person. Not all people, including those who live in tribal lands or rural areas, have reliable postal service, and people with disabilities who require accommodations or those who need to register to vote on Election Day can vote by mail. In addition, Black Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged by vote-by-mail.
If the issues during recent primary elections are any indicator, be aware that many jurisdictions could face challenges holding in-person voting during the pandemic, and you may face obstacles casting your ballot in a safe or timely manner.
6. Do you need documentation to vote in person?
If you are voting in person, especially for the first time, you may need a photo ID or other documentation. Check out this list of voter ID laws by state from the National Conference of State Legislatures to see what you may need to bring with you to your polling pace.
7. Voting safely in person
If you do vote in person, wear a mask, social distance, and practice proper hand hygiene. If your state allows for it, vote during an early in-person voting period. Here’s a state-by-state list of laws governing early voting.
On Election Day, consider voting during off-peak hours to avoid larger crowds, if you can. You may also expect long wait times as lines could be very long. Local officials are scaling down polling locations and staff, so a surge of in-person voting on Election Day could cause big issues. As Michele Obama recently said, “We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.”