How to vote by mail in your state in the November presidential election

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  • Several states have expanded vote by mail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Washington Post finding that 180 million voters will either have ballots sent to them or can vote by mail without an excuse.
  • While mail voting is a convenient way to cast a ballot for those concerned about COVID-19, it is unfamiliar to many voters, and ballots cast by mail are more likely to be rejected than those cast in person.
  • In order to successfully vote by mail, experts recommend requesting your mail ballot as soon as possible, carefully following the instructions to make sure it gets counted, and sending it back well in advance.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Many states have expanded voting by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a Washington Post analysis finding that 180 million voters will be able to easily cast a mail ballot this November.

While different states use varying definitions of absentee versus mail ballots, they functionally work the same way: a voter receives a ballot from their local elections office and returns it via the postal service, in person, or to a ballot dropbox.

If you live in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or the District of Columbia,you’ll most likely have a mail-in ballot automatically sent to you and don’t need to take further action to request one. (California is only sending ballots to active registered voters).

If you live and are registered to vote in Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, or Wisconsin, you’ll automatically receive a mail-in ballot application that you can fill out and send back. And 26 more states are allowing all or most voters to cast a mail-in ballot without a documented excuse beyond the fear of contracting COVID-19.

While mail voting is not inherently fraudulent or corrupt, as President Donald Trump has falsely claimed for months, it is subject to more complications and user error than voting in person.

With many states starting to send out their November mail-in ballots and commence early voting within two months, the election is much closer than you think.

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Get familiar with process and requirements in your state:

While most states are now letting all voters vote by mail for any reason, others only allow elderly voters to request a ballot without an excuse and some are still set to require all voters to meet one of the state’s listed conditions to receive a mail ballot.

Some states that don’t require an excuse to vote by mail still impose further requirements in order for voters’ ballots to count, including requiring voters to submit a copy of a photo ID, obtain witness signatures, or get their ballot notarized.

Ballotpedia has put together a detailed guide of the election policy changes enacted during the pandemic, but when in doubt,check with your local election office to be sure of the rules.

Fewer than half of US states are set to offer an online portal where voters can request their absentee ballots for November. In the remaining states, you must send in a signed paper form to your election office, which you can find either on your state or county election office’s website or from third-party nonprofits including Vote.org and VoteAmerica.

Request your ballot as soon as possible:

Experts say that while it may seem early to even start thinking about the fall, you should request and send in your ballot as soon as possible to reduce the strain on your local election officials.

As absentee ballot requests have skyrocketed in recent months, officials in some places with previously low levels of absentee voting have struggled to meet the soaring demand in a short time frame.

In addition to the states sending voters a mail-in ballot or mail ballot request form, you can already request your November ballot in 38 states and should do so as soon as you can if you plan to vote by mail.

Some experts have applied the now-ubiquitous idea of flattening the curve of the rate of COVID-19 infections to flattening the curve of absentee ballot requests to avoid election offices being so overwhelmed with a last-minute influx of requests that they’re unable to get ballots out to voters in time.

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Carefully follow the instructions:

When you do get your ballot, make sure to closely read the instructions before filling it out and sending it in. States use a number of security protocols to ensure the integrity of the mail ballots, including requiring signatures on the inner and/or outer envelopes and matching a voter’s signature with a signature on file.

Every year, thousands of mail-in ballots are rejected or challenged for being incorrectly completed, not being placed in an inner privacy envelope, being improperly sealed, or missing the required signatures on the inner and/or outer envelopes.

While some states have a cure process for voters to fix problems with their ballots, not all do. Nearly one in five voters who cast mail ballots in New York’s June 23 primary elections had their ballots tossed out often with no notification that their ballot wasn’t counted.

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Send your ballot back through the US Postal Service at least seven days in advance:

The US Postal Service, which processes millions of mail ballots a year, is suffering significant financial troubles caused by the pandemic and is adjusting to new leadership as voters and election officials voters alike contend with the massive demand for mail voting.

While many Americans are used to relatively fast mail delivery, that may not be the case for all election mail this year.

A recent NPR analysis found that at least 65,000 ballots have been rejected for arriving past the state’s arrival deadline this year alone. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the agency’s new postmaster general has issued guidance instructing mail carriers to prioritise delivery of commercial packages over regular mail and has restricted overtime, policy changes that could severely impede timely delivery of first-class mail, including ballots.

Even though nearly half of states allow voters to request mail ballots within a week of the election, USPS recommends that voters plan for at least a 14-day round trip for their ballot to arrive at their home and make it back to the elections office by their state’s arrival deadline.

If you’re nervous about sending your ballot through the Postal Service, you’ll have the option in most states to drop off your ballot in-person at your local elections office (different offices may modify their in-person pick-up and drop-off policies in response to COVID-19), and in some states, return it to a secure ballot drop box.

Other helpful resources to help you request a ballot and learn more about the rules in your state: