If you feel despondent — or even just confused — about the voting process, you’re not alone. One reason you might be feeling this way is because President Donald Trump is doing his best to create chaos and uncertainty around the democratic process, with the goal of making people throw up their arms and just give up rather than participate. He has refused to fund the U.S. Postal Service, on which millions of people rely for their absentee ballots, leading to the USPS warning that even if you follow your state’s election deadlines, your ballot might be disqualified. He has spread lies and misinformation, including that there’s widespread voter fraud and that you can vote twice. (You can’t. Sorry.) Meanwhile, all along he has strongly suggested that he will not concede if he loses, which could throw the country into even more chaos. According to the Transition Integrity Project (TIP), an organization that convened over 100 bipartisan experts to simulate various election scenarios, contested results are likely to create widespread unrest.
“We anticipate lawsuits, divergent media narratives, attempts to stop the counting of ballots, and protests drawing people from both sides,” TIP wrote in a report summarizing its findings. “The potential for violent conflict is high, particularly since Trump encourages his supporters to take up arms.”
So, the reality is that voting is a scary and messy process right now. And it was messy long before Trump started tampering with the Post Office: Voter suppression tactics, which disproportionately harm people of color, the disabled, and low-income communities, continue to plague our elections. In the primaries, we saw them in the form of closed polling places, hours-long lines, and broken voting machines. Hundreds of thousands of ballots, many of them in battleground states, were reportedly tossed out this year due to missed delivery deadlines and small mistakes. This could have a huge impact if it happens again in the general election.
With that said, there is still hope if we all take action. Many states have expanded voting access via vote-by-mail. And in the majority of states, there are multiple options available to vote, including early voting, voting by mail, and, of course, in-person voting. Read ahead for everything you need to know to register to vote and make your vote count. And then actually go do it — because, yes, it’s that important. Apathy is one thing we can’t afford right now.
Yes, you can still register to vote!
If you’re planning to vote by mail, request your absentee ballot now.
Some states — including California and Nevada — automatically mail ballots to voters. Others — like Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and certain counties in Florida — will automatically mail you an absentee-ballot application. Still others — Minnesota, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia — don’t mail voters anything unless requested, so you need to request your absentee ballot as soon as possible to avoid delays. Then, in some states — like Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina — you need an excuse to vote by mail, such as having an underlying condition or being out of town on Election Day.
Return your absentee ballot well in advance of Election Day on November 3.
While in many states, absentee ballots need to be either postmarked or received by November 3, with the USPS as unpredictable as it is, it’s important to return yours as early as you can. In many states, you can track the progress of your absentee ballot online using the systems set up by individual counties.
In some states, you can vote remotely without using a mailbox.
Some states — including California, Washington, and Arizona — have set up ballot drop boxes available for voters, while others are still planning to install them.
Instead of mailing your ballot, you can hand-deliver it.
You can also deliver your ballot to a local politician’s office or your local polling place in person if you’re able to; if you’re interested you can check your state’s Board of Elections or Secretary of State website. If your state is one of the 26 to offer the option, you can also organize a community ballot drop, where a designated person collects and returns ballots on behalf of those who are unable to submit their own.
Consider in-person early voting.
If you’re looking to avoid crowds and the hassle of the USPS, this could be a good option. Many states offer in-person early voting starting in October. You can find state-by-state specifics here.
Voting in person on Election Day? Be prepared.
If you’re voting in person on November 3, make sure to know the following:
- Make time around work and other activities. There’s no federal law requiring employers to offer workers time off to vote, but over 30 states have legislation allowing employees time off to cast their ballots on Election Day. Go here for a state-by-state guide on workers’ voting rights.
- Plan ahead. “Pick a day and time — then put it on your calendar. Fill in the ‘event location’ by looking up your polling place,” says Ashley Spillane, president and founder of Impactual and former president of Rock the Vote. If you don’t have any, or enough, polling places nearby, call your local elections board and request more information.
- Bring your ID to your polling place, if you need it. Check this state-by-state guide for where it’s required. Bring multiple forms of identification, just in case.
- Stay safe amid the pandemic: Wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer, and keep your distance from others as much as you can.
- Because lines could be long, bring reading material (might we suggest our guide to the issues?). Also bring snacks, and any medicine or medical supplies you might need. You can even get free pizza: “If you spot a long line at a polling place during early voting or on Election Day, let @PizzatothePolls know so they can send out some tasty treats! Who doesn't love free food for all?! You can report a long line via Twitter, Instagram, or on their website at www.polls.pizza. P.S. You can also donate a pizza or two,” suggests Spillane.
- If you notice unsafe practices, issues that unfairly affect vulnerable groups, or any other problems, you can call the nonpartisan election protection hotline 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).
Make sure to encourage your friends and family to vote, too.
Spread the word on social media and through text. “We're literally running an election in the midst of a pandemic — and SO many people are making their voices heard! This is worth celebrating. Hype your friends up with social media posts or text messages,” says Spillane.