On top of all the other historic, unforgettable things to happen in 2020 – we also have a major election. And just like how the pandemic has upended most things in life, it has also started to impact the general election. Because of concerns around crowds at polling places and the spread of COVID-19, as well as a shortage of poll workers, people are looking to mail-in voting as be a safer alternative to in-person voting. Never done mail-in voting before? Or simply need a refresher? Here’s what you need to know to make sure your ballot is counted this November.
Mail-in vs. Absentee Voting
Mail-in voting and absentee voting are often used interchangeably. Depending on the state, they may refer to the same thing. Absentee voting usually applies to people who can’t be physically present to vote on Election Day (e.g., if you’re overseas or ill), while mail-in voting is broadly the process of casting ballots via mail. So absentee voting is a form of mail-in voting, but not all mail-in voting is absentee voting. Due to the pandemic, many states are changing their rules to make it easier to vote absentee. That means more people than ever will be allowed to vote by mail.
Who is eligible for mail-in voting?
First and foremost, you must be registered to vote! Forty states plus DC allow for online voter registration. Register here or check your registration here.
Every state allows for mail-in, absentee voting, but the rules vary by state. Some require an excuse to vote absentee, some don’t require any excuse, and some automatically send you an absentee ballot if you’ve voted absentee in past elections. In five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington), ballots are automatically mailed to every eligible voter. This year, in California, governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that in addition to in-person polling places, every registered voter will receive a mail-in-ballot prior to the general election in November.
It’s also important to be mindful of both absentee ballot application and submission deadlines. Receiving and sending in an absentee ballot takes longer than showing up to a polling place on Election Day. If you receive an absentee ballot but still want to vote in-person, you may be able to, depending on your state. Every vote counts towards the election! Wether it’s in person or by mail, make sure to follow the appropriate rules and deadlines. To see the rules in your state, visit your state election office website, and check your state’s deadlines here.
How and when do you turn in your mail-in ballot?
One way to send in your mail-in ballot is through the mail. Due to an anticipated surge in mail-in ballots this year, the USPS sent letters to 46 states saying they could not guarantee all ballots sent via mail would arrive in time to be counted for the November election. However, two USPS execs also penned an op-en in USA Today saying the postal service is prepared to handle the uptick in election mail. They said they deliver around 425 million pieces of mail any given day, and that election mail will account for less than two percent of that volume.
Worried about your ballot making the election deadline? Follow these tips:
- Request an absentee ballot & mail it in as early as possible to allow ample time for delivery
- Drop off your ballot at your local election office.
- Drop off your ballot at an in-person voting location or polling place. Eleven states and DC allow dropping off of ballots at any in-person voting location in the county. Two states (New Hampshire and Vermont) permit voters to drop off ballots at their assigned polling places.
- Drop off your ballot at a ballot box (absentee ballots must be in signed and sealed envelopes). Eleven states have drop boxes in some or all counties.
- Look into in-person early voting. To avoid the crowds on Election Day, 39 states and DC offer in-person early voting, and some offer weekend voting. Check dates and rules by state here.
Are you voting by mail or in person? Tell us how you’re participating in our democracy in the comments! And don’t forget to follow us at @faviana on Instagram to stay updated with the latest at Faviana!