At the beginning of the strange road that is 2020, the election seemed like a mere blip on the horizon. But election season is upon us, and election day is growing closer by the day. There are three ways to vote in this election: by mail, in-person early, and in-person on Election Day, which is November 3, 2020. Each state has its own deadlines and requirements for how its residents can vote, and some have changed due to COVID-19. We’ve created a general step-by-step guide to safe and successful voting and included many links to official resources with more in-depth information by state. Here’s your 2020 Voter’s Guide.

Voting mask

2020’s voting procedures might look different than elections past, but don’t let that stop you from exercising this crucial American right. Image: Pratt Library

REGISTER / CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION

If you know you’re registered to vote, that’s great! It doesn’t hurt to check your registration status, though. You might also need to change your home address or other information that might have changed since you registered. In many states, the deadline to register has already passed, but in some, you can still register even up until Election Day itself. If you have not yet registered to vote, click HERE. For a state-by-state list of registration deadlines, click HERE. Check your registration status HERE.

IF YOU VOTE BY MAIL

Venturing out to the polls, standing in potential lines, and touching public equipment is daunting to many in light of the pandemic, so many states are making it easier for you to vote absentee by mail this year. Every state’s absentee voting rules are different. Some require an excuse to vote by mail, some do not. Know the deadlines for requesting and returning your ballot. Some states have drop-off stations for mail ballots, and some states allow voters to return mail ballots to polling places on Election Day.

If you have secured or requested your absentee ballot, ensure you fill it out in its entirety and triple-check that everything is properly filled in and legible. Your signature should also align with those on your driver’s license or other government documents. Some states require mailed ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, but others require them to arrive by Election Day. Make sure your snail mail counts. Most states have systems to track your ballot, so you can check its status. Click HERE for state-by-state mail-in voting requirements.

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MAKE A VOTING PLAN

If you choose to vote in person, make sure you know where your polling center is and that you check your local election commission to ensure it is still open. Some polling centers have closed, consolidated, or moved due to a lack of staff, so it’s always smart to double-check. Once you know your location, check the hours, and plan a time and day to vote. Involving a friend or family member in your plan can help hold you accountable. Get to know the ballot before you go. Your county’s election commission should have a sample ballot Google-able online, and most send them by mail to help you prepare.

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CONSIDER VOTING EARLY

To avoid frustrating wait times and crowded polling centers, consider voting early if your state allows it. There are so many reasons to vote early — this year, especially — if your schedule permits. It takes up less of your time, exposes you to fewer people, and gives those who don’t have the same schedule flexibility the opportunity to vote with slimmer crowds. Early in-person voting has already begun in many states or begins soon. HERE is a breakdown of each state’s early voting schedule. Some states even have voting centers open on Saturday and Sunday.

Early voting options by state.

Here’s a breakdown of early voting options by state from the National Conference of State Legislators. Gray states do not offer early voting. Image: NCSL

KNOW WHAT TO BRING (AND WHAT NOT TO BRING)

Most states require identification of some kind to vote in person. About half of the states with voter ID laws accept only photo IDs such as driver’s licenses, state-issued ID cards, military ID cards or passports. Other states accept some types of non-photo ID that may include birth certificates, Social Security cards, utility bills or bank statements. Each state is specific about the documents it accepts, so check your state’s voter ID requirements before Election Day HERE.

Bring and wear a mask and prepare for lines, especially if you plan to vote on November 3. Water, snacks, hand sanitizer, a book, and a fully charged phone with earphones to listen to your favorite podcast are all good things to have on hand. Leave at home any political garb like clothing, buttons, hats, signs or other merch items. It allows others to vote in peace, plus some states have actual laws against “electioneering” at polling centers, which can often include apparel.

BE PATIENT

Most importantly, practice consideration and patience — for other voters as well as those manning the polling center. Many of these workers and volunteers are putting themselves at risk to make the process run smoothly. Everyone’s collective goal should be to stay safe and calm while exercising their right to vote.

For more information about the voting process, find your state or local elections office HERE.

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