We’re halfway through October and millions of Americans have already cast their vote in the 2020 election (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/10/2020-election-turnout/616640/,https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/11/politics/election-ballots-cast/index.html) with voter turnout poised to shatter records. But Election Day is Nov. 3rd, you say? How are these millions of people already out there voting? Enter early voting to shake things up.
Early voting, or advance polling, is a process that allows citizens to participate in public elections prior to the scheduled voting day. This includes a variety of pre-polling options, including absentee or mail-in ballots via postal voting or ballot drop boxes or in-person at designated early voting polling stations. It’s important to note that there are changes to mail-in absentee voting due to the coronavirus; some states allow it as a reason to vote absentee, and some do not (Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas do require an excuse to vote absentee). Every state has their own voting regulations and rules, make sure to check if your state allows early voting: https://www.vote.org/early-voting-calendar/
For a very comprehensive breakdown of how to vote in the 2020 Election, state-by-state, check out Project FiveThrityEight (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/how-to-vote-2020/). Here you can double-check if your state allows early voting, if there are any extra requirements (a notarized vote? a reason beside COVID-19 to vote absentee?), and specific state-by-state items of note on the ballot (next week, we’ll be going over getting specific information on your state’s ballot).
Voting by Mail/Drop-Off
Whether you’re mailing in your ballot or taking it to an official drop box, read and follow mail-in ballot instructions carefully. Most require a signature, sometimes more than one, and your ballot can be disqualified if your signature does not match what the state has on file. Everything from how you fill out the “bubbles” on the ballot to where you sign and what envelop you use matters when voting absentee.
If you’re concerned about sending your ballot via postal service, a ballot drop box provides a safe alternative. A ballot drop box is a secure, locked structure operated by election officials where voters may deliver their ballots from the time they receive them in the mail up to the time polls close on Election Day. Ballot drop boxes can be staffed or unstaffed, temporary or permanent. Unstaffed drop boxes are typically available 24 hours a day and permanently anchored in place. Staffed drop boxes are typically available during regular business hours and monitored by trained workers during those hours. Make sure to double-check your ballot drop box locations to make sure it is an official drop box (https://bfy.tw/PMGp).
Voting in Person
Spreading voting across a longer time period via early voting is an effective way to avoid crowds and long lines at polling stations – which is essential in decreasing the risk of contracting COVID-19 if people take health and safety precautions. However, this is not always guaranteed as some states have drastically reduced the number of available polling places and introduced additional restrictions and requirements designed to discourage civic participation.
Make sure you know where your polling place is located before heading out (even Googling “early voting” will return results for your specific state: https://bfy.tw/PMg2) and double-check available hours. In general, as long as you have queued up during polling hours you have to be allowed to vote. Even if the polling station hours are “closed,” if you are in line before closing your right to vote cannot be denied. Depending on your state, you may face long wait times even if you vote early (people in Georgia and Texas have faced up to 11-hour wait times this past week alone), be prepared to wait it out while still protecting yourself as we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Having a pack with snacks, water, and other supplies may be helpful while you wait.
Follow basic safety guidelines to limit your risk of exposure to COVID-19 should you vote in person — these practices apply whether you vote early or not.
COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Voting
If you can find a time of day when the polling place may be less crowded (mornings, afternoons) try to hit at low traffic times. Note: with recent changes to restrict access to polling locations, this may not be an option.
Maintain social distancing, including if you’re waiting in line to vote.
Wear a mask throughout the entire voting process.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after voting. Use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands right away.
Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
Wipe down any polling equipment before and after you use it with anti-bacterial wipes.
Curb-side voting may be available, call your county election administrator ahead of time to see if they offer curbside voting.
Make sure you're informed and prepared, vote early if you can, but most importantly VOTE.
Every election is determined by the people who show up. -Larry J. Sabato