Vote by Mail FAQs

Oct 11, 2020 by Shelley Rees

Woman looking at mail in ballot by a mail box

What, Why, Who, When and How to Vote by Mail 

A hot topic for this coming election is how many people will vote by mail. With COVID-19 still rampant in the U.S., voting by mail will be a critical part of the November 3rd election. But whether or not you’re eligible to vote by mail depends on where you live, even down to the county level. Read on to find out more information on how to vote by mail.  

What does it mean to vote by mail?

Voting by mail is pretty self-explanatory. After you receive a ballot in the mail from the governing body of your state/territory’s elections (be it a secretary of state, lieutenant governor, etc.), you fill it out and put it in a mailbox for collection. Alternatively, you can drop off your completed ballot at a designated drop-off box. It can also be called absentee voting, although absentee voting more often requires an excuse like being deployed in a foreign country or attending a college out of your home state. 

Why should you vote by mail?

There are a lot of reasons to vote by mail. One is that you won’t have to wait in a crowded line on Election Day. In the COVID-19 age, this is not just a convenience but a critical way to keep yourself and anyone you interact with safe. This is especially true in states with few election booths or poll workers—and there are even fewer poll workers this November due to COVID-19. Every year, we see newscasts featuring people waiting in line for hours and hours due to these shortages, like this Texas man who waited until 1:30 a.m. to cast his vote.

Another perk to voting by mail is that you can make a more informed decision about each candidate rather than guessing or leaving a section blank at the polls. A friend of mine moved to Colorado, where voting by mail is universal (sending out mail-in-ballots to every eligible voter in a state/territory), and told me how much easier she found it was to vote this way because she could look up each candidate and take the time to make what she felt was the best decision. 

Many people believe that making voting by mail universal is more democratic because it makes it easier to vote. Many workers don’t have schedules that allow them to vote on Election Day and if they can’t vote early or by mail due to strict election laws, they can be left out of the process entirely. All citizens should have the right to vote, not just those meet the sometimes-onerous requirements of the officials that run elections or those who can afford to come into work late on Election Day. 

Who should vote by mail?

Everyone who is eligible to vote by mail should do so, especially this year. I outlined the reasons for doing so above but the most critical reason is COVID-19. That said, not every secretary of state or other elections official has made the reasonable decision to send ballots or vote by mail applications out to everyone, even in the face of COVID-19. In fact, vote by mail laws vary wildly across different states and even down to different counties in the same state. 

Some voters, like those in Texas, are required to have an excuse to vote (such as being 65 years of age or older) while voters in Montana may or may not get a mail-in ballot depending on which county the live in. If you live in California, you’re in luck because every registered voter will be sent a mail-in ballot. As you can see, whether or not someone is eligible to vote by mail differs dramatically depending on where you live. Make sure you do your research sooner rather than later to find out if you’re eligible and if you need to do anything in order to receive your ballot or if it will automatically be mailed to you. You can find an overview on how different states are handling voting by mail here.

When should you vote by mail?

With Louis DeJoy as the Postmaster General, there is a lot of (valid) concern that he is actively trying to harm the USPS and that this may negatively impact the November 2020 election. As a result, the general advice is to mail in your ballot as soon as you can. Alternatively, many places have designated drop-off boxes where you can delivery your completed ballot without having to worry about any mail delays. Your SoS or local news outlets should provide more information on where to find any ballot drop-off boxes. In most cases, your ballot will need to be received by the SoS, whether via the mail or a drop-off box by the time the polls close on Election Day (November 3). 

How should you vote by mail?

First, you’ll need to make sure you’re registered to vote. Even if you know you are a frequent voter, you should still check to make sure you’re still registered. Some states have more aggressive stances on removing voters for a variety of reasons and there can be a lot of errors made in the process. You don’t want to send in your ballot only to find out that you aren’t eligible to vote so that’s an important place to start. 

Next, you’ll need to find out if you’re eligible to vote by mail and if there are any steps you need to take in order to receive your ballot. In some states, you’ll need to provide a reason you can’t show up to the polls, although many are now accepting COVID-19 as a valid excuse. You may also be required to request a mail-in ballot, in which case you’ll want to request that as soon as possible to ensure you receive it in time, given possible USPS delays. 

Once you have your ballot, you’ll need to fill it out. While the presidential race is what most people will be following closely this November, don’t forget about local races! These are the races that people most often don’t vote on or take a guess for an arbitrary reason like name or gender. But from your state senator down to your local coroner’s race, local elections often have the most direct impact on your day-to-day life. If you’re not sure who to vote for, most local news sources will provide a thorough breakdown of each candidate and often include interviews with each candidate. You can also vote based on a news source’s endorsements if you trust that source to have done thorough research and made a choice that aligns with your values. Whatever you do, do not leave any office on your ballot empty. While some people think that not voting is a form of protest, all they are actually accomplishing is letting other people they don’t know choose for them. Don’t let other people choose for you!

As you can see, the requirements to vote by mail are dramatically different from state to state and sometimes even county to county. The most important thing to take into the account in the upcoming election is time. Time to research your voter status and eligibility, time to find out what you need to do to vote by mail, and time to return your ballot. Start as soon as you can to make your voice is heard. While all elections are important, the November 3rd election is one you absolutely cannot miss!

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