Voting by Mail? Here are 6 Things to Remember
Note: The terms vote by mail and absentee ballot are being used interchangeably in this article. However, some states use both with important distinctions or specific meanings while other states use different terms entirely.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has already looked very different than past years with mask mandates and social distancing guidelines in most localities. These public health concerns are also impacting the elections. Many states are temporarily changing their voting protocols for the November election, including vote by mail.
Voting by mail has been an option in some states for decades, but in response to COVID-19, localities across the country are expanding vote-by-mail eligibility and access. If you’re planning to vote-by-mail because of concerns relating to COVID-19 or otherwise, here are six things to keep in mind:
- Check your state’s requirements on qualifying to vote by mail
If you are considering voting by mail, the first step you need to take is to make sure that you’re eligible to vote by mail in your state. Some states require that you have an excuse to vote by mail, others don’t, and still others have made concerns relating to Covid-19 a valid excuse for everyone. With that being said you can find out about state specific requirements here.
- Request an absentee ballot by your state’s deadline
Once you’ve found out that you qualify to vote by mail, make sure to request an absentee ballot by your state’s specific deadline. Remember, filling out this absentee ballot application this is not the same as casting your vote! Once you’ve submitted your request and are approved, you will receive a ballot which you must fill out and send in so that your vote can be counted. You can request an absentee ballot here! Note: some states are pro-actively mailing every registered, active voter a ballot. This is another reason why it’s smart to make sure your registration is up to date at your current address. If you click here, you’ll find out if your state is mailing ballots to everyone.
- Take your time filling out the ballot!
Absentee ballots can oftentimes be more complicated and wordy than the in-person versions you may be used to working with. This means that it is very important to take your time reading through the instructions. You can find out about state-specific guidelines to filling out mail-in ballots by calling 866-our-vote or your local election office. In addition to ensuring that all parts of your ballot are filled out correctly, voting by mail also gives you the opportunity to study all the candidates on the ballot. You are probably very familiar with the candidates of top ticket races, such as the presidency, but not as much with those running for school boards and state congressional seats. Therefore, it would be great to use the extra time you have with your ballot at home to learn more about the stances and proposed policies of every candidate.
- Double-check your ballot before sending it in!
One of the leading causes for mail-in ballots not being counted is missing signatures and/or dates! So, make sure that you have signed and dated your ballot in all necessary places (this often includes both the ballot itself and the envelope provided to mail it in with). And don’t forget to put your ballot in the privacy/secrecy envelope! If you received help from someone when filling out your ballot their signatures are also required. Some states even require the signature of a “witness” to verify the validity of your ballot. Exact regulations vary by state and you can check those here.
- Make sure that your ballot is postmarked by the correct deadline
The last step in the process of voting by mail is submitting your ballot. Each state has a specific deadline by which mail-in ballots must be postmarked. Therefore, it is important to complete and mail in your ballot as soon as possible to avoid accidentally missing the deadline. Some localities are also providing secure drop boxes as an alternative to mailing in ballots for those voting absentee. Find out options for dropping off your ballot here or call 866-OUR-VOTE.
- Though vote-by-mail is a great option for some, in-person and other voting options are still necessary
The Covid-19 pandemic has made mail-in voting a necessity for some, but it is still important to recognize that in-person voting also remains a necessity for many members of marginalized groups. For example, many Native American communities do not have reliable access to postal services and have non-traditional home addresses that make sending and receiving absentee ballots difficult. Without stable housing, low-income people face similar issues with postal services as they don’t have a permanent address from which they can send and receive mail. Concerns around accessibility also extend to people with disabilities and communities of color. If you are a member of one of the aforementioned groups or prefer voting in person for other reasons, be sure to locate your polling place prior to election day.
With all of the above in mind, request your absentee ballot by visiting https://statevoices.org/votebymail/! Also, visit 866ourvote.org/state for state-specific information on all Covid-19 related election information.
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