The presidential election is less than 70 days away, and here’s what America is dealing with: a raging pandemic, a crisis at the United States Postal Service, the threat of foreign meddling, and lots of misinformation, including from the president’s Twitter account.
All of this raises a serious question: How can you make sure your vote will count in 2020?
Voting in the middle of a pandemic was always going to look different. For those who choose to vote in person, voters and poll workers will likely have to social distance and wear masks. A lot of people might forgo in-person voting altogether; the number of Americans voting by mail is expected to double compared to 2016.
And then came the controversy at the United States Postal Service. A series of cost-cutting measures sparked delays in mail delivery, which critics feared could undermine the USPS’s ability to sort and deliver ballots in time to be counted, potentially disenfranchising millions of voters. The USPS has since suspended these changes, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has assured lawmakers that the November election is his “number one priority.”
But primary season amid the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t exactly go smoothly. The Washington Post reported that some half a million mail-in ballots were rejected in the primaries, a combination of late delivery and voter error.
All this is eroding faith in the exercise of democracy this November — and, potentially, in the election results themselves.
The United States’ voting system had significant problems before the pandemic and will after, unless there’s reform. There should be. But that’s not going to happen in time for November 3. Indeed, many states will start mailing out ballots in just a few weeks.
So here’s a guide on how voters can better navigate the election and, in the process, make the voting system better for everyone. The biggest takeaway: Don’t wait.
“If you do you want to simplify it down to the easiest thing, it’s two words: Plan early,” David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Innovation & Election Research, told me. “That’s it, that’s everything.”
There’s been a lot of talk about making a “voting plan.”
“Make a plan right now for how you are going to get involved and vote,” former President Barack Obama said last week during his address at the Democratic National Convention. “Do it as early as you can, and tell your family and friends how they can vote, too.”
There is one guiding principle to this plan, and you have maybe guessed it: Do everything — everything, everything, everything — early.
The very first step is the most critical: Make sure you can vote. Find out if you are registered. Even if you think you are, you can double-check and make sure your information is up to date. Do this now at your state or local election website, which you can look up here.
Seriously, do it now, we’ll wait.
(Note: The best way to find all information and deadlines for voting is with your state or local election board, which, again, you can track down here.)
Since you’re now hanging out on the web page belonging to your area’s election officials, it’s probably worth checking all the voting deadlines and requirements. That can help you decide which way you can and want to vote: by mail or in person.
Many more states are going to offer voters the option to send in their ballots this year. Some states are sending ballots to every registered voter — either because they’ve been doing it that way for a long time or they’ve adopted these policies because of Covid-19. In total, nine states (plus Washington, DC) are mailing ballots to all eligible voters: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
About another 35 states will allow voters to mail in absentee ballots without having to give a reason, or will accept Covid-19 as an excuse. Some of those states, like Delaware, are sending everyone applications for mail-in ballots. In others, you must request a ballot directly from your local election office. There are still a handful of states where you must cite a specific reason for voting absentee: Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina.