Voting can be confusing. That’s why we put together this step-by-step guide, to walk you through the basics and make sure you’re fully prepared to turn your voice into a vote for the next President of the United States.
From checking your registration status to breaking down the specific voting rules by state, we’re here to cover all the bases and help you feel ready to chime in and show up in 2020! 🙌
- Why Should You Vote?
- How to Vote: 3 Easy Steps
- Vote by Mail vs. Vote In Person
- Voting Rules and Deadlines by State
- How to Check if You’re Registered to Vote
- Resources for Mail-in Voting
- Voting by State
- The Bottom Line: Show Up 💪
Why Should You Vote?
More than a dozen elections over the last 20 years have come down to a tie or a single vote. Your vote does matter, more than you think.
🤓 Fun fact: The 2016 election came down to 80k votes across 3 states.
How to Vote: 3 Easy Steps
Here’s how to vote and show up on Election Day 🇺🇸
1. Check your status 😎
Go to vote.org – It’s free and takes 20 seconds
2. Choose your method 📫
Vote by-mail or in-person at the polls
Heads up: Every state has different rules. Check our voting chart below to see yours.
3. Do your research 📚
Get to know candidates + what they stand for.
Vote by Mail vs. Vote In Person
Each state allows you to vote in person or by mail, to some degree. Some states have made it easier than others to safely vote during the pandemic through mail-in and absentee voting. But what’s the difference?
Normally, voters cast their ballots in person at a polling station based on where they are registered to vote. If for whatever reason you can’t be physically present at a polling station, you can request an absentee ballot application and specify a reason you won’t be able to vote in person. If you’re approved to vote absentee, you’re sent a physical ballot that you would complete, sign and return by mail.
Voting Rules and Deadlines by State
Some states use a no-excuse absentee ballot, which doesn’t require a reason to vote absentee, and you can simply submit an application requesting one — these states sometimes refer to them as mail-in ballots. A small number of states will automatically send registered voters a mail-in ballot to the address on their voter registration before election day to be mailed back, or dropped at a polling station. If you’re out of state traveling or for college and can’t receive your ballot at your registered address, you can also request an absentee ballot be sent to you.
Each state also has its own unique rules and deadlines that dictate when you can register to vote, when you can start voting in person or submit your mail-in ballot, and if you can vote by mail, need a ballot application, or vote in person. Many of the sites where you can check your registration status will also automatically serve up your state’s information based on your registration details, but you can always visit your state’s election and voting information site. Note: We also made a little chart where you can check your states’ rules—scroll down to see more.
If you’re voting in person, check out your local polling station. No matter what, you should come prepared with a face mask or shield, tissues and hand sanitizer, but it’s also important to know the protective measures where you’ll be voting:
- Are masks required for both voters and poll workers?
- Will poll workers be wearing any additional protection gear like gloves and face shields?
- Will there be safety barriers and social distancing markers visible?
- Separate points of exit and entry?
- What’s the space between the voting booths?
- How frequently is the location being sanitized?
How to Check if You’re Registered to Vote
If you’re not registered to vote, depending on your state you can register online or through a registration form. Each state has its own voting rules and deadlines. You can vote by mail to some degree in all states, but may need an absentee ballot application first. In others, you may not be eligible to vote absentee and need to vote in person.
Do your research and fill out your ballot. If you’re voting by mail, drop it off at your local polling station or send it back to your county’s election official in the provided envelope. If you’re voting in person, find your local polling station and cast your ballot.
Even if you’ve registered before, just check. It takes less than half the time it takes you to brush your teeth. If you’ve moved, changed your name or even declined to vote in previous elections, you could be removed from your state’s active voter list and need to re-register without realizing it. When it comes to choosing how you check your registration, there are a few sites that can help make the process just a little less confusing. All you’ll need to share is your name, your address and some contact information to get started.
Resources for Mail-in Voting
There are lots of organizations working to make the voting process easier for everyone. Here’s a short list of some of our recommended resources:
- Up to Us: Designed for mobile devices and accessible through a single link, Up to Us partnered with Outvote to create a tool that helps you check your registration status in less than 30 seconds or register to vote through your state. Your confirmation screen neatly displays all the registration and voting information specific to you and your state, even providing links you can share with friends and family to help encourage them to do the same. If you need help getting a registration form, or a ballot application, they can send you those too. Just request them from your confirmation screen. You’ll even get text updates and reminders along the way.
- Better Know A Ballot: An easy-to-read quick guide that compiles all the basic steps to getting to the polls. Minimal text and clean layouts present the important information directly on the screen without needing to enter your information or navigate to other pages. Better Know a Ballot provides links directly to your state’s election and voter information site so you can learn more about how to register, check your registration, and review important deadlines and voting options in your state. You can even watch a short clip from Stephen Colbert that sums up the process in just a few minutes.
- I Will Vote: Browse information on voting in your state, how to register and important dates. I Will Vote is most helpful as a quick reference to review the voter registration deadlines and requirements, early voting dates and vote-by-mail details for your state. You’ll also find links to each state’s election and voter information site to check your registration status and get more information on how to register, but it’s not quite as intuitive as some of your other options.
- Vote.org: An end-to-end guide to voting, complete with a countdown to Election Day. Check your registration, get help registering and learn the rules of absentee voting in your state — including the qualifying reasons and rules for mail-in voting. Similar to some sites, when you check your registration, you can request an absentee ballot application and get helpful alerts or messages along the way. A comprehensive menu allows you to jump to specific sections of the site you may want to learn more about, or you can use the homepage to jump to frequently accessed links.
Voting by State
The rules are slightly different for registered voters, depending on the state.
Registered voters will automatically receive a mail-in ballot:
- New Jersey
- Washington D.C.
Registered voters will automatically receive an absentee ballot application — you can cite the pandemic as the reason you need to vote absentee, or you may not need to specify one at all:
- New Mexico
Registered voters will need to request an absentee ballot application — you can cite the pandemic as the reason you need to vote absentee, or you may not need to specify one at all:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
Registered voters will need to request an absentee ballot application and cite a reason beyond the pandemic to vote absentee. You may need to vote in person in these states:
- South Carolina
- New York
The Bottom Line: Show Up 💪
This year, you’ll be doing something that no American has done in over half a century—voting during a global pandemic! New voter registrations have been lower than they were in 2016 and, with registration deadlines closing in quickly, it’s more important than ever to show up and ask anyone who will listen to do the same.
The outcome of this election will determine how we challenge the system to advocate for equality, justice, systemic change, and recover as a nation together, for decades to come.