A Comprehensive Guide to Voting in the 2020 Election

This is our chance to make a change.

It’s safe to say there’s a lot going on in the world right now. There is a nationwide call to action to end police brutality, increased demand for greater transparency about white privilege and the racism that still exists in our systems, and protests against assigning a new Supreme Court justice until after the presidential inauguration in 2021. Oh, and we’re still dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Some people are calling this time a revolution, others are simply saying it’s time for a change. But understanding how to vote is key in being able to enact change—and no, we’re not just talking about voting for the president.

These issues and many others stem from the local level and make their way up to higher government officials that we also have the ability to vote for. And with the general election right around the corner, the good news is it really isn’t that hard to help make a difference.

We’ve created a comprehensive guide to knowing how, when, and where to vote. Read this, research your candidates, and ask yourself these questions to complete your civic duty. Your vote counts.

Am I registered to vote?

Sites like Rockthevote.org have easy-to-use forms that help you see if and where you are registered. Simply type in your name, address, and date of birth, and the site will scan voter databases to let you know the status of your registration. If you are not registered, the site will direct you to sign up.

Additionally, you can register to vote via your state’s election site or go to usa.gov to start your voter registration. These forms can be filled out online and mailed in with a signature or completed in person at your local election office.

Just be sure to check the U.S. Vote Foundation website to find your state’s deadline for registering, as many of these dates are approaching fast!

When should I vote?

The general election will be held on November 3rd, 2020, but some states have allowed (and increased their access to) early voting to accommodate public health concerns due to COVID-19.

What is early voting?

Early voting allows citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to the election. This year, more states are adopting “no-excuse” early voting, meaning you do not need to provide a valid reason or “excuse” for why you would like to cast your vote early. According to ballotopedia.org, as of August 2020, 38 states and the District of Columbia permitted no-excuse early voting. Early voting usually opens up at select polling sites up to a few weeks before Election Day. To find out when early voting is happening for your state, check out the calendar here.

Where do I vote in-person?

You’ll need to locate your polling place to find exactly where to go to vote on Election Day or beforehand, should you choose to vote in person. To find your polling place, check out vote411.org and type in the street address with which you registered. You can also use the Polling Place Locator tool on vote.org to be directed to your state’s election site and given the address of your designated polling place. Usually, this location will be a local school, town hall, or another public facility near your home.

It’s important that you use your current residential address when registering to vote so that your polling place is identified correctly. Also, make note of the hours that your polling site will be open. Different states have different polling hours, but most are open from early morning to evening on Election Day. This year, if you choose to vote in person, be respectful of social distancing guidelines, and don’t forget your mask!

When you get there, some states (two-thirds) will require you to provide identification in order to vote at the polls. According to federal law, all first-time voters who didn’t register in person or show ID before must show identification.

After that, you’ll be ushered to complete your ballot. To see which candidates are on your ballot beforehand, check out sites like vote-usa.org and vote411.org, which you can search based on your address. This makes it super easy to do your research and show up to the polls confident and informed.

To cast your vote, you’ll fill out the ballot in person (the protocol for this varies by state) and return it to a polling official before you leave.

How does mail-in voting work?

If you’re unable to cast your ballot in person for any number of reasons—particularly this year due to the pandemic—you may be eligible to request an absentee or mail-in ballot. This allows you to cast your vote for elected officials by filling out a paper ballot and mailing it to your election office.

Start by visiting your state or territorial election office website and looking for “absentee voting” or “voting by mail.” Then, make sure to request a ballot by the deadline, fill it out, and send it back as soon as possible to make sure it’s counted. If you’re more comfortable dropping the sealed ballot off at your local election office, you can do that, too. Check the deadlines for absentee ballot receipt in your state here.

Can I vote online?

No, you cannot vote online. According to usa.gov, in most elections in the United States, you either need to vote in person at an official polling place or by casting an absentee ballot. This is primarily for safety and accuracy reasons.

Good luck! Remember: Every vote counts.

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