As Election Day 2020 approaches, fears about an unfair election are ramping up.
COVID-19 has raised serious questions about conducting both safe and accessible elections. For many states, this means moving away from in-person voting. However, relying on mail-in ballots presents problems with the United States Postal Service (USPS), which may not be ready to handle such an extreme influx of election mail. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in an August statement that managing election mail in a timely manner is the USPS’s “number one priority between now and election day.” The USPS also postponed several changes, such as changing post office hours and removing blue collection boxes, that many feared would interfere with counting mail-in ballots.
And, regardless of the logistical complications this year’s general election may present, voting by mail may be an unfamiliar process for those who are used to going to the polls. Even those who choose to vote in person may be faced with new protocols and longer lines, as seen in state elections earlier this year.
Don’t want to get cheated out of your vote this November? Check out our four tips below to make sure your ballot gets counted.
The first step to making sure you get to vote in November is making sure you’re registered to vote at your current address. Vote.org has an easy tool that will check your state database for you — if not, scroll down to check using your state’s secretary of state website.
If you’ve recently changed your name or moved — even if it’s within the same state — you’ll have to update your registration, which you can do here. Most states will let you do it online, but the registration deadline may differ if you fill out the form in person or mail it in. Be sure to mail any election-related mail with plenty of time to spare. Check out our interactive to find your state’s specific voter registration deadline.
Currently, the USPS is recommending that you request your mail-in ballot two weeks before the election and send in your ballot at least a week before, but the earlier the better. Every state’s deadline for requesting ballots is different — if you’re having trouble keeping track, use this list to find your state’s individual rules. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom — through an executive order — announced that all registered voters will receive a vote-by-mail ballot. While many states will allow you to request mail-in or absentee ballots as close as the week before the election, a USPS statement from May recommended allowing extra time for election mail to be handled.
However, this isn’t a strict deadline: if you forget to mail in your ballot a week before election day, send in your ballot as soon as possible! In most states, your vote will be counted as long as it’s received by November 3; other states ask only that it’s postmarked by Election Day — check your state’s deadline here. If you’re worried about your vote being counted, you can also hand-deliver your ballot to your local election office or ballot drop-off box (in certain states) before the deadline.
Voting in person
With the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person voting may be scary for some. But if you are going to your local polling station, the most important first step is making sure you’re at the right one. You may also need a photo ID or other documentation that proves you live in your state, especially if you’re a first-time voter. The law differs from state to state, however, so use this tool to see the specific documents you may need at the polls.
There are a number of rights you have at polling stations that are important to remember. As long as you’re in line to vote on or before their closing time, they must stay open long enough to let you vote. If you make a mistake on your first ballot or the machines are broken, you can request a new paper ballot. If your poll worker insists that your name isn’t on the list of registered voters, ask for a provisional ballot, which they will count if you are registered or accidentally at the wrong polling place.
One lesser-known rule is that you aren’t allowed to take pictures in the ballot box — it’s illegal in some states! So instead of posting a selfie with your ballot this November, try to find another way to celebrate your civic engagement.
Still having issues at your polling station and don’t know what to do? Call 866-687-8683, the official Election Protection hotline, to get real-time expert assistance. The hotline is run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as part of their Election Protection program, which runs year-round. They can also answer questions about voter registration, absentee ballots or other aspects of the voting process.
Misinformation on social media
Similar to the past several election cycles, social media is full of misleading information, whether or not it was shared with good intent. For example, a tweet that said Election Day was two weeks early for mail-in voters was widely circulated in an effort to educate others on the delays USPS predicts having in November. However, that message received criticism for being misleading — USPS’s recommendation was to send in your ballot one week before November 3, and they didn’t label it as an alternate Election Day.
Other messages aren’t always sent with the same good intentions. In past elections there have been reports of social media ads, Facebook posts and even automated calls and text messages that gave false information about Election Day and discouraged people from voting. Even two of Donald Trump’s tweets were flagged as misleading in May for falsely connecting mail-in voting with election fraud.
When looking for dependable information about polling places, mail-in voting or other election-related questions, try not to trust social media posts. Even sources that might seem reputable, like accounts with thousands of followers or politicians, can unknowingly create misleading posts. It never hurts to do some quick research before relying on information sourced from social media for Election Day.