More than 71 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, and if you’re not one of them: What are you waiting for?
Whatever the reason, don’t wait any longer: Make a voting plan now.
But less than one week out from Election Day, your voting plan needs to be realistic. Specifically, you should now plan to vote in person or drop off your mail ballot, if you already have one.
To put it another way: It’s now probably cutting it too close to send your ballot through the mail.
The United States Postal Service recommends that “as a common-sense measure, you mail your complete ballot before Election Day, and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline.”
Deadlines vary by state. Some states require ballots to be received or postmarked before Election Day (Louisiana, for example, must get your ballot by November 2). Others require that ballots be received by Election Day to be counted, including swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
Some states require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day but have cutoffs on how late they can be received. For example, Pennsylvania requires a November 3 postmark, but those ballots have to arrive by November 6 or they won’t be counted.
So if you haven’t dropped your stamped ballot in the mailbox yet, it’s time to come up with a new plan.
The good news is there is still plenty of time for that! If you have a mail ballot in hand, you should still have the option to drop it off with election officials, at a polling place, designated drop-off location, or drop box before or on Election Day. And if you hadn’t thought about voting until today, it’s time for you to figure out how you’ll vote in person, either early or on Election Day.
If you still want to “vote by mail,” drop that ballot off
Voting by mail doesn’t have to mean literally voting by mail. Most states offer some kind of drop-off option.
Many states allow you to drop off your ballot at your local election office. At least 20 states will let voters drop off their mail ballots at their polling station on Election Day. And about 40 states are offering some sort of drop boxes where voters can return ballots, though it may depend on the county where you live.
Only two states — Tennessee and Mississippi — don’t allow for the hand delivery of ballots. Kentucky doesn’t allow people to hand-deliver ballots but does have drop box locations. Missouri, for some reason, makes a distinction between absentee voters (those who have a valid excuse) and people who just prefer to vote by mail. Only absentee voters can hand-deliver ballots; mail voters must send through the mail.
But as always, check the rules of your state, or call your local election officials, to find the best drop-off option.
If you requested a mail ballot and haven’t received it, or if you have a mail ballot and haven’t turned it in yet, you can still vote in person. Many states, like Pennsylvania, require you to bring your mail ballot to the polling station and turn it in to poll workers. If you don’t have a ballot — you requested one but never got it, or you threw it out, or your dog chewed it up — that’s also okay. But, as in Pennsylvania, you may have to vote via provisional ballot, which will count as long as election officials can verify you didn’t already vote by mail. This is just a safeguard against people voting twice, which is illegal, despite what people are saying.
A few states, such as New York, automatically let your in-person vote override your mail vote, but definitely check your state’s rules first. Other states, like Florida, ask that you bring in your ballot, but if you don’t have it, election officials will let only let you cast a ballot in person if they can verify you haven’t already submitted a vote by mail. Some states, like Michigan, may ask voters who don’t turn in their ballots to sign an affidavit canceling any mail ballot before they can vote.
If you’ve sent in your ballot already, or are planning to drop it off as soon as you finish reading this, do sign up for ballot tracking, if it’s available where you live. Many other states let you track the progress of your ballot on a voter portal on a state or local election site. This will tell you whether election officials have received your ballot, and, in some cases, it will let you know whether it’s been rejected or accepted.
If your ballot has been rejected, some states allow you to go through what’s called a “cure process,” and many other states have adopted procedures to cure ballots during the pandemic. This process allows voters to fix any mismatched or missing signatures, or other possible mistakes that might otherwise prevent their vote from being counted. In many places, election officials are supposed to contact voters directly, but if anything seems amiss with your mail-in vote, you can always call the election office yourself.
Otherwise, plan to vote in person as soon as you can
Voting in person is always an option for those who haven’t cast their ballots yet. If possible, you should do it now, or as soon as you can, rather than waiting until Election Day on November 3.
About 40 states offer some form of early in-person voting, and much of it is happening this week. The dates and times vary by state and county, so check them out here. Lines have been long in some places for early voting, but they could be far worse on Election Day, and if you for some reason can’t wait in line on November 3, you might miss your chance to vote at all.
But if you can only vote in person on Election Day, then stick to that plan and do it!
For those concerned about the Covid-19 risk of voting in person, public health officials say it’s relatively safe, and about as risky as going to the grocery store. You should still take precautions, though, like wearing a mask, trying to stay 6 feet apart from others while standing in line and inside the polling place, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer once you’ve voted.
If you’re still worried, check with your local election officials to see what kinds of precautions they’re taking at your local site. This is another reason to vote early, and to try to do it during off hours, when the polls might be less crowded.
As Vox’s Dylan Scott reported, voting by mail may be the safest option from a public health perspective, “but whether it’s simply too late for you to vote by mail or you prefer to vote in person to eliminate the possibility of any mistakes in your ballot being processed, you can vote safely in person.”
There is still plenty of time to cast your ballot. The United States could see unprecedented turnout this election, but that still requires everyone who’s eligible to get out and vote. So go and do it, now.