How To Vote By Mail: A Guide To Send In Your Ballot : Life Kit : NPR

The 2020 election will be unlike any other election in United States history.

States are already working to change everything to accommodate the coronavirus, from stocking up on hand sanitizer to arranging to use NBA arenas as polling places. but the biggest difference is voting by mail.

Voting is slightly different in every county and state across the country, but overall, it will be easier than ever to vote by mail. States are relaxing restrictions on who is eligible to do so and, in some states, spending money to send ballot request forms or even ballots to all registered voters.

That means more people will be voting by mail than ever before, and it also means millions of voters will be voting by mail for the first time in November.

We’ve broken down the logistics here to make voting by mail a little less overwhelming.

1. register to vote

The first step is the same whether you want to vote in person or vote by mail. you need to register. you cannot vote in any way without being on the lists.

Start by visiting your local elections website. To find the right website, you can go to, a nonpartisan web clearinghouse for voting information. just tell the website what state and county you are in, and it will send you registration information.

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2. request your ballot by mail

Next, you must request the absentee ballot. Due to the coronavirus, many states have relaxed the need for an excuse to request an absentee ballot. most of the time it is as simple as filling out an online form. Occasionally, you may need to email your local election official or fill out a paper form, but those scenarios are quite rare.

Even if you’re in one of those few states that still require an excuse to vote by mail, Amber McCreynolds of the National Institute for Voting at Home says that shouldn’t stop you from trying. a lot of people qualify, but they just don’t realize it.

some states are universal vote-by-mail states. if you live in one and are a registered voter, your local election official will simply mail you a ballot automatically. but it is very important that your local election official has your correct address. you can check this online. again, is a great place to start.

mcreynolds told us that the closer election day gets, the more overwhelmed election officials become with paperwork. so request your ballot now, or as soon as possible. don’t wait

3. fill out your ballot — correctly

There are two major things that can mislead voters when filling out a mail-in ballot: filling out the ballot incorrectly and signing it incorrectly.

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Both of these steps may seem simple enough, but not taking the extra minute to read the instructions may mean your local official may have to contact you or, worse, your ballot may not be counted.

“if it says fill in the oval, fill in the oval,” says mcreynolds. do not type a check mark or circle a name.

The second thing is the signatures. these are in the outer envelope, not on the ballot. make sure you sign that envelope. mcreynolds says, don’t use your “grocery store signature”. use your official signature to make sure the ballot ends up being counted.

4. return your ballot

don’t fill it up and then let it sit on the kitchen counter. When you’re done filling it out and signing it, be sure to give the post office time to give it to your election official. In many jurisdictions, you can track your ballot online just like tracking a package you bought online.

Many people are concerned that the post office will be overwhelmed with ballots this October and early November. With that in mind, many jurisdictions also offer ballot drop-off locations, either at designated drop boxes or at a precinct or polling place. Of course, you can also drop it off at your local election official’s office.

5. help a friend

Once you’ve discovered this system, and especially if you’re in a place where historically many people haven’t voted by mail, consider helping out a friend or offering assistance on social media. you could really be a resource for people who don’t know what to do or are intimidated by it.

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The podcast portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.

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