Voting in the 2020 election ends in just 21 days, but there’s still plenty of time to make a plan to vote and make your vote count.
In most states, you have the option to vote by mail or vote early in-person as an alternative to voting in-person on Election Day.
Here are answers to 12 of the most common logistical questions about voting in 2020.
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Voting in the 2020 election ends in just 21 days, but there’s still plenty of time to vote and make it count if you haven’t cast a ballot yet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many new challenges to voting. But election officials are working hard so you still most likely have multiple safe options to cast a ballot in your state.
More states than ever are offering mail-in and early voting as an alternative to voting in-person on Election Day for those who are concerned about possible exposure to COVID-19, with most also giving voters the option to drop off their mail-in ballots in-person and to track the status of their ballot online.
It’s also still safe to vote in-person, experts say, with the necessary precautions like social distancing in the polling place and wearing a mask.
Here are 12 interactive graphics, charts, and maps Insider created to answer your most common questions about voting in 2020:
What is the deadline to register to vote?
Voter registration deadlines have already passed in many states and are coming up soon in others.
Twenty-one states and DC currently allow voters to register to vote on Election Day or during early voting if they miss the deadline to register by mail or online, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
All the states that offer same-day registration require voters to present proof of residency with a valid photo or non-photo ID, with many states mandating those who do not have the requisite ID to cast a provisional ballot until their residency is verified.
Can I vote by mail?
Voting from home is now more accessible than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This fall, all or most voters in ten states and the District of Columbia are receiving ballots automatically from their election officials without needing to request one.
Voters in 35 additional states can vote by mail without an excuse at all, or are able to do so if they fear contracting COVID-19 at the polls.
Just five states — Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas — are not allowing all voters who want to cast a mail ballot over concerns of COVID-19 exposure. In those states, voters must list an approved excuse beyond COVID-19 fears, like being over a certain age or being away from their county on Election Day, to vote absentee.
When is the deadline to request and return my mail ballot?
The deadlines to request and send back a mail ballot vary by state, but election officials and experts are urging voters to request and get their ballots as soon as possible to reduce their risk of their ballot arriving too late.
While many states allow voters to request a mail ballot within a week of the election, the United States Postal Service has stated that while they are committing to delivering ballots at first-class rates or faster, they cannot guarantee that ballots will be delivered by a specific date and recommend voters request ballots at least 15 days in advance.
First-class mail takes two to five days on average to be delivered each way, so be sure to plan for more than enough time for your ballot to be returned or postmarked by your state’s deadline.
Deadlines for when ballots must be postmarked or received have been heavily litigated across the country, with courts in the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania ruling to extend the deadlines by which ballots can be received.
In addition to sending your ballot back through the mail, voters in most states also have the option to drop off their ballots in-person to a secure ballot dropbox or to their local county elections office.
How does my state verify and process mail ballots?
How do election officials help keep rates of fraud with ballots cast outside the polling place so low? States use a number of largely successful measures to verify the authenticity of mail ballots, and to easily detect and prevent fraud and interference when it is attempted.
Every state requires a voter to sign an affidavit on the envelope containing their ballot, and for ballots to be received or postmarked by Election Day, or in the same states, the day before, to count.
As the above map shows, the majority of states also use a process called signature matching, in which election officials verify the signature on a voter’s ballot envelope with the most recent signature on file. Some states also require voters to include a signature from a witness or a notary on the outer envelope containing their mail ballot.
When will I get my mail ballot?
States and counties all have slightly different timelines for when they send out mail ballots, and how long they take to arrive.
This year, North Carolina was the very first state to start sending out mail ballots to those who had requested them back on September 4, and ballots have now gone out to both domestic and military/overseas voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In the vast majority of states and the District of Columbia, you can easily track your ballot just like an Amazon package online with a portal set up by your election officials.
And in some states, including California, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia, also allow voters to sign up for email or text message alerts for updates on when their ballot was mailed, received, and accepted, as opposed to the voter having to manually check on their state’s portal.
When can I vote early?
In 2020, 42 states and the District of Columbia will offer some form of in-person early voting prior to Election Day.
In those states, voters can either vote at a regular polling place or voting center, just as one would do on Election Day, or by casting a paper ballot early at their local elections office, which is sometimes referred to as “in-person absentee” voting.
Early voting allows voters to both cast a ballot without having to rely on the Postal Service and avoid potentially long lines at their voting location on Election Day itself, an attractive option for those concerned about the comparatively higher rejection rates of mail ballots.
Before you go to vote, be sure to double-check the location and hours of early voting in your precinct with your local elections office, since they may vary from your regular Election Day voting location.
Do I need an ID to vote?
This year, 34 states will require voters voting in-person to show either a photo or non-photo ID in order to cast a ballot, and some states further require all or some voters to send in copies of their photo ID with their mail ballot or application.
Voter ID laws come in two categories: strict, and non-strict.
Non-strict states allow voters without the required documentation to cast a sworn affidavit or reasonable impediment declaration or to have a poll worker vouch for them in order to vote, while strict states require voters to cast a provisional ballot and later provide additional proof of residency in order for their vote to count.
If you need any assistance navigating the voter-ID laws in your state, affording the cost of obtaining an ID, or making a photocopy to send in with your ballot or application, organizations like VoteRiders can help.
Can I take time off from work to vote?
In many states, yes!
In 2020, 30 states have laws on the books explicitly requiring employers to give employees time off from work, either paid or unpaid, to vote in-person.
If you’re voting in-person on November 3 or voting early, be sure to both double-check your state’s specific laws and approve your time off with your employer well in advance.
When do the polls open and close on Election Day?
Poll opening and closing times vary by state and in some places like New Hampshire, by municipality. In most states, in-person voting is open for at least 12 hours on Election Day.
If you plan to vote on Election Day, prepare to wait in a longer line than you may be used to and take proper safety precautions by wearing a mask. In every US state, you should be allowed to vote and cast your ballot as long as you’re in line by the time the polls close.
If you’re in line when polls close and you’re not allowed to vote or if someone tries to interfere with your right to vote, you can call the non-partisan Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for help.
Can I vote if I have a felony conviction?
The 2020 election will be the first in decades where no US state will bar all its citizens with felony convictions from voting.
Four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia — until recently barred most or all people with felony convictions from voting, but recently changed their laws through gubernatorial executive order or with a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of people.
Currently, 11 states permanently disenfranchise people with certain disqualifying felony convictions, 15 states reenfranchise citizens upon release from prison, and 17 states reenfranchise those who have completed the entirety of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia are the only places that allow those currently incarcerated on felony convictions to vote.
If you’re currently on probation or parole, be sure to double-check the specific laws in your state to make sure you’re eligible to vote — voting while on probation or parole is itself a felony offense in some states.
How do people in the military vote online? Can I vote online?
Every state allows overseas and military voters to return their ballots by mail, and the majority also offer the option to do so by some digital means.
In 2020, 32 states will permit military and overseas voters to return their ballots via fax, email, and in a few states, with an online portal, according to the Overseas Vote Foundation.
Military voters, especially those serving in remote areas with spotty mail delivery, have historically experienced more difficulty casting a ballot and having their vote count, making online transmission a possible solution to increase the ease of voting.
But any time the internet is introduced into the voting process — especially in the returning of ballots — it raises a host of possible election security problems and flaws.
“There are a number of potential vulnerabilities when you talk about internet voting: malware, denial of service attacks, protection and anonymization of results, and having a meaningful voter-verified paper record,” David Levine, the election integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told Insider.
Can I post a photo of my ballot on social media?
Some excited voters are already posting photos of their mail-in or in-person ballots online. But taking a photo of your marked ballot and posting it on social media, sometimes referred to as a “ballot selfie,” could be illegal in your state.
While most states don’t ban posting ballot photos on social media specifically, many have laws prohibiting voters from showing their marked ballot to others, laws that were enacted to protect voters’ right to a secret ballot and to discourage bribery, vote-buying, and voter coercion.
It also may be prohibited in your state to take photos or use your phone in your polling place, so double-check the rules before you whip out your phone to take a selfie.
Rules around ballot selfies can be difficult to enforce and it’s rare for states to prosecute voters for posting photos of their ballots, but you still want to make sure not to do anything that could lead to your vote being challenged or even thrown out.
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