how to vote

Here’s a very helpful Washington Post round-up about exactly how to safely vote in every state this year.

This one from Slate is really good too.

For each state, you can look up deadlines to request a ballot by mail, how to actually cast your vote this year, and more.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessica Fletcher*

    Thank you for posting! Anyone who votes by mail/absentee – take an extra minute to read the directions before and after completing your ballot!

    1. willow for now*

      Yes! Last time I voted by mail, the larger-format envelope required extra postage, and that made me wonder how many ballots were not delivered due to insufficient postage.

      1. Mostly Lurking*

        This is why taking your ballot to a drop-off box is such a good option. No worry about getting the right postage on it and no worry about it arriving in time.

        I live in a 100% vote-by-mail state and have never mailed the ballot back. I love that it arrives without having to do anything (other than be registered) and that I can then fill it out at home – taking my time, doing my research, etc. – and then take it to a secure box to drop it off.

      2. charo*

        I just saw a news story about what a high % of mail ballots are invalid because people make dumb mistakes — not following directions.

        Maybe get together w/others and double check each others’ procedures.

        There should be a a video that explains it because this is important. We can open a retirement account and negotiate a job, but we draw a blank when it comes to this sometimes.

        1. Chinook*

          Having worked as a counter in the last Canadian election, where everyone fills theirs in with a pencil, I am no longer surprised at how people cannot follow directions. All you have to do is fill in the giant white circle in the black box next the candidates name with a clear mark and yet some people still didn’t do that (even with examples staring them in the face). I don’t think there is such a thing as a confidential AND foolproof way to mark ballots.

    2. JessaB*

      And don’t forget to put stamps of the right value if your jurisdiction doesn’t give you post paid envelopes. Seriously ballots are usually more than ONE stamp worth of weight.

    3. Arvolin*

      At least in my state, there’s a website I can log into and determine if my ballot has been received and will be processed. If you’ve got one, please use it.

  2. Camille McKenzie*

    Thank you for posting this and being among those getting the word out and trying to assist people.

  3. Tidewater 4-1009*

    In Illinois you can take your mail-in ballot to a drop box at the early voting sites instead of trusting the mail. There may be drop boxes in other locations too. Look online to see, and if you’re not in Illinois check to see if there are drop boxes in your state.

    1. TiffIf*

      Same in Utah–there’s a ballot drop box at the city public library drive through–though don’t mix up the book return drop box with the ballot drop box!

    2. old curmudgeon*

      Same in Wisconsin – you can drop your absentee ballot off with your county clerk, or you can drop it off at one of the early-voting locations in your community.

      Wisconsin’s voter information website also shows voters whether or not their absentee ballot has been received, and if it was received, what date it arrived, which increases the comfort level for those of us who cannot drop our ballots off in person. I expect to receive my absentee ballot next week, and it’ll go back in the mail within a day’s time, just as soon as I can round up a witness and jump through the requisite hoops.

      Thank you, Alison, for getting this incredibly vital message out to your US readers!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In Oregon & Washington, both are strictly mailed ballots. You can and SHOULD use the ballot drop box if you’re able to. I haven’t ever mailed one of my ballots and they’re actually no-postage required here.

      They’re usually at your city hall or elections offices, you can usually find a map at your state or county website!

      1. RB*

        Yep, Oregon’s great. No postage required and you get an e-mail when they’ve counted your ballot (you have to sign up for that but just the one time, not every election). Lots of drop-off sites if you don’t get it mailed in time. We also do automatic registration now that happens when you get your drivers license or when you transfer it over from another state.

  4. I edit everything*

    Yeah, seconding what someone said above about reading the directions–there are signatures required, sometimes multiple–and envelopes inside of envelopes and ID verifications…

    In Ohio, once you request an absentee ballot, you’re committed to voting that way. You can’t request one and then show up and vote normally at your usual polling place. You’d have to vote a provisional ballot or drive your absentee ballot to the Board of Elections.

    And if you do vote in person on election day, be kind to your poll workers. It’s a very long day. Offerings of snacks and caffeinated beverages are much appreciated.

    1. JustaTech*

      Some companies are offering their employees 8 hours paid time off to go be a poll worker. My SO’s company offered that (though he can’t take them up on it because we’re an all-mail state).

      So if you’ve got the time to take off, and you feel safe, volunteer as a poll worker!

  5. Anonariffic*

    If you’re going to mail your ballot, make sure you check the cut-off dates in your state and send it early if possible! Virginia requires them to be postmarked by the 3rd but they have to be *received* by the 6th- USPS warned them that wasn’t leaving enough time for delivery and they recommend you have your ballot in the mail at least a week before the deadline if you’re not going to deliver it in person.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      And in Wisconsin, they have to be RECEIVED by November 3, which means most county clerks are recommending that people mail them no later than October 20. September 20 would be even better (since those of us who already requested an absentee ballot should receive them by that date).

  6. MA poll worker*

    Massachusetts held its state (er, commonwealth) primary last week. It was the first time we’ve had significant mail-in voting. This varies a lot by state, but general advice:

    1. If you’re going to mail in a ballot, please make sure you follow the instructions. In MA, we have bubbles that you need to fill in completely. If you vote in person and you mess this up (for example, by putting an X in the bubble instead of filling it in), the machine will reject it, we can get you another ballot and help you fix it! If you vote by mail and mess this up, the machine will reject it, and we need to hand-count the ballot and guess what you were trying to vote at.

    2. Mail your ballot as early as possible! In MA, you can still vote in person if you requested a mail-in ballot, so if it’s down to the wire on getting your vote in on time, coming to the polling place might be a better option. Mail-in ballots can be dropped off at your city/town hall, but if you show up at the polls in person with a mail-in ballot we’re required to destroy the mail-in ballot and give you a new one to fill out. (At least, this is what we did for the primary — I have a feeling this might change in November.)

    I’m also very happy to answer questions from MA voters. :)

  7. old curmudgeon*

    And in breaking news in Wisconsin, the state supreme court just ordered all county clerks NOT to mail absentee ballots on September 17 as they are required to do, because the SSC wants to reconsider letting both Kanye West and a Green Party candidate onto Wisconsin’s ballot after the Elections Commission declined their requests.

    1. Penny Parker*

      Yes! Someone is talking about this! I sent in a comment just now but had read the others first. I am absolutely distraught about this. This could throw the election for the entire country, and that is NOT an exaggeration. I live in a small Wisconsin town and I cannot imagine many towns like mine — mine included — have the funds to completely reprint all of the ballots they already made. We may well end up with a ballot shortage even if people go to the polls to vote.

    2. Penny Parker*

      Also, by not getting the absentee ballots out on time our military members who are stationed out-of-state will not be able to vote.

  8. Aphrodite*

    Thank you for these links. I am passing them along to quite a few people with the request that they pass them along too.

  9. Happy*

    The Slate article has incorrect information about voting in Alabama. It is NOT necessary to send in a copy of your ID with your absentee ballot.

    The Alabama state department has put out conflicting information on the topic, but a copy of the ID is only required to request a ballot – not to be included upon ballot submission.

  10. dispatchrabbi*

    Thanks for posting these! I think a lot of people are going to be voting early or by mail for the first time this year and it’s important to do everything right.

    Hopefully a lot of people are going to be voting this year just in general, and because my partner and I are apparently both “the one you ask government and civics questions to” in our friend groups, we decided to put all those answers in one place and record a non-partisan primer about why voting is important, how to pick a candidate, and other voting-type stuff.

    It’s a small, self-contained podcast called Why You Should Vote – please give it a listen or pass it on if you think it would be helpful to anyone! Knowledge is power and everyone who can vote, should. (As my mom’s law prof used to say: vote early, vote often.)

  11. Generic Name*

    Colorado has universal vote by mail, and it’s glorious. It’s become a ritual to sit with my ballot and read the blue book in front of the computer to figure out where I stand in each issue. I read about each judge. Google the candidates I haven’t heard of for down ballot races. Then after I’ve made my carefully considered selections, I seal my ballot and Walt it to a drop box located one block from my house. Every state should do this.

    1. Mostly Lurking*

      Except for walking the ballot to the drop box, you could be me! Unfortunately, the drop box is not within walking distance.

    2. Hazel*

      I agree! I usually end up doing my candidate/issue research on my phone in the voting booth (when there’s no line, of course! I always went to the polls in the middle of the day – back when everyone was at their jobs, not at home), but this time I was able to do it at home at my desk. And I even talked with my neighbor about the candidate whose sign they had in their yard. For me, mail-in (or in my case, drop-off-at-city-hall) voting made it possible for me to educate myself better and talk with others about the election, which I think is a good thing.

  12. Bowserkitty*

    A reminder to any American expat living in a foreign country – YOU CAN STILL VOTE. But please make sure your registration is active! I had to update mine and my state had it as easy as confirming my information was the same and providing my DL number.

    Remember, just because you don’t live in the states anymore doesn’t mean you live in a country that won’t be affected by whomever leads the USA for the next four years.

    1. Old Admin*

      I second that!!

      As a current expat, I was able to look up my voter status (and mailing address etc.) online in my Florida home county! And register online!
      To change my address, I could download a form, sign, scan, and email it back.

      And the awesome part is:
      Yesterday, I got my Florida ballot for the federal election BY EMAIL!! (That’s the first time ever.)
      And I can FAX back the ballot (plus a certificate of my identity they supplied), thus completely circumventing the current shenanigans of slowing down postal services etc.
      All this in a state (in)famous for Florida Man memes/stupidity, Trump/Mar-A-Lago, bubbas/corruption…
      I am actually proud of my county (Monroe).

      1. Bowserkitty*

        Oh that is fabulous!!!! I’m surprised my state and country is so online and on the ball with the whole thing. The request form was easy enough to do through email via scanning, and I should be getting my ballot itself any day now. I’ll have to physically take it into the post office but that will be a painless process and cost maybe $2 total for postage.

  13. Mimmy*

    New Jersey automatically sends out mail-in ballots to registered voters, no request needed.

    There is one change from the Slate article: It states that there is no online voter registration. That became available just this week.

    1. Jim Bob*

      That would be nice. If there was a browser that could repurpose Adblock to get rid of politics and Covid too, I think I’d be in a much better place day-to-day.

  14. Champion of the vote*

    Could you also highlight time off laws for voting? In several states voting by mail will not be an available or smart option for many voters, so voting in person (early or on election day) will still happen and we know that lines have gotten long at consolidated polling places in elections held so far this year.

    If there’s anyone reading this who holds a leadership position (or has some capital to spare and a passion for democracy) Global Citizen and HeadCount have launched a new nonpartisan campaign focused on civic engagement called Just Vote. As a part of this campaign they are encouraging employers of all types—including corporations, nonprofits and universities—to offer their employees a minimum of 2 hours time off to vote, to share resources around voting and to publicly commit to supporting civic engagement as a part of the Just Vote initiative. There’s a pledge you can sign on their site too.

  15. Penny Parker*

    I am surprised — and extremely distressed — today that no national news that I could find (have not looked hard, just at my usual sources) published about what happened with the Wi State Supreme Court and how they have made it so that voting by mail may not be possible at all, and the election ballots themselves may be difficult for small municipalities to produce. This may indeed sway the election for the entire country. Please share this widely. (my cut and paste misses some; it is not all there from the article; read the original)

    Don’t just take it from me, here is some of the local news:

    Wisconsin Supreme Court temporarily suspends mailing of absentee ballots
    Riley Vetterkind | Wisconsin State Journal

    Wisconsin Supreme Court temporarily suspends mailing of absentee ballots

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily suspended the mailing of absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election as the court weighs whether to order the Green Party presidential ticket be added to the ballot.

    The order from the conservative-backed majority on the state Supreme Court, coming a week before the state-imposed Sept. 17 deadline to send out requested absentee ballots to registered voters, is in a case brought by Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins.

    Some clerks, including those in Dane County, have already printed or sent out ballots as they handle an unprecedented amount of requests this year due to COVID-19.

    Hawkins wants the court to place him on the ballot after his request was rejected by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. He and running mate Angela Walker were kept off the ballot due to a complaint alleging Walker listed an incorrect address on thousands of her nominating signatures, bringing her number of valid signatures below the required threshold to secure a spot on the ballot.
    The order from the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court is in a case brought by Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins.

    “The court, in a 4-3 decision with all liberal-backed justices dissenting, said clerks should hold off on sending out any absentee ballots until it issues a further order in the case.

    The court also asked the Wisconsin Elections Commission to provide it information within a matter of hours Thursday detailing whether any ballots have been mailed out to voters and if so, to whom and when. In response, WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe said despite its best efforts, it was only able to gather information from 63 of 72 counties and 25 of 1,850 municipalities. Many municipal clerks work part-time.

    The WEC filing showed at least 2.3 million ballots have already been printed by local elections officials across the state. Municipal clerks have so far reported that at least 378,482 ballots have been sent, the commission’s best figure for the number of ballots that may have already been mailed out.

    Some county clerks who responded complained to the commission about the tardiness of the Hawkins lawsuit and the potential costs and time involved in making last-minute changes to ballots which would require the printing of new ballots and other complications.

    Bayfield County Clerk Scott Fibert questioned whether parties asking for ballot changes should be the ones to pay for reprinting.

    “I find it unfair that county clerks were/are put in this position of trying to make decisions when the courts are not acting expeditiously,” wrote Chippewa County Clerk Jaclyn Sadler. “This should not be happening the week before ballots are to be mailed out.”

    While the WEC is provided with updates, Wisconsin’s decentralized elections system means detailed information about ballot requests and mailings resides with municipal clerks. ”
    allots printed in Dane County

    As of Thursday, the Elections Commission logged nearly 1 million absentee ballot requests on file. The court order has already caused a stir among local elections officials.

    Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said a potential Supreme Court order adding names to the November ballot would create virtually insurmountable challenges. McDonell said municipal clerks in Dane County have 150,000 absentee requests on file as of Thursday and are working on delivering them to municipal clerks.

    McDonell said if the Supreme Court were to change the ballot at this point, Dane County would have to redesign the ballot, including in Spanish, load new information onto voting machine thumb drives, test the ballots, print 500,000 new ballots, package, sort and deliver them.

    Municipal clerks would then need to print labels, sort the requests by ballot type, stuff the envelopes and mail them.

    If the Supreme Court orders new names to be placed on the ballot, he said there is no way local clerks would be able to mail out absentee ballots by the Sept. 17 deadline or the Sept. 19 federal deadline for military and overseas voters.

    “This is potentially a huge disaster,” McDonell said. “Just the delay of a decision is deeply irresponsible and jeopardizes the integrity of our election.”

    WEC spokesman Reid Magney said about 313,000 absentee ballot labels have already been created, representing about a third of the total requests on file. WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe said many jurisdictions were planning to send out ballots this weekend, and that some smaller, hand-count jurisdictions may already have sent out ballots.

    “Once ballots go out, to change the ballot would be incredibly incredibly challenging to manage that process,” she said.

    If the ballot were to be changed, elections officials would likely need to develop an A/B balloting system for voters who have already received a ballot, something that hasn’t been done on a statewide basis before. Such a system would mean voters who already received the original style ballot would receive a new “B” ballot they would be instructed to return. Clerks would be provided information on which ballot to count.

    The state’s voter registration system ensures only one ballot from each voter is counted.

    “Placing new names on the November ballot might not only create delays to sending out this year’s unprecedented volume of requests. It could also influence the outcome of the presidential election in November because vote margins in Wisconsin tend to be very close.

    In 2016, for example, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 31,006 votes, more than President Donald Trump’s less than 23,000 margin of victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin.”

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