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3 things you can do to make voting easier for November 2020 election

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  • Many of the elections held during the COVID-19 pandemic have been marked by states struggling to get out absentee ballots to voters on time and long lines at polling places. 
  • There are several things you can do to help make November’s election a success.
  • Make your plan to vote now, request your ballot as soon as possible if you plan to vote by mail, and volunteer at the polls if you can do. 
  • At the bottom of this page, you’ll find tools from Vote.org and VoteAmerica to register to vote or verify your registration, request a mail-in ballot, find your nearest polling location, and sign up for election reminders. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Long lines at polling places, absentee ballots that never showed up to voters’ homes, and long delays in election results have defined many of  the elections held during the COVID-19 pandemic so far. 

Waiting several days for election results is part of our new normal as a greater proportion of ballots are cast by mail. But voting rights advocates are sounding the alarm that problems we’ve seen so far could spell disaster for the November presidential election. 

“As messy as the primaries have been, it’s like a dress rehearsal for the general election,” Debra Cleaver, a voting rights expert who founded Vote.org and VoteAmerica told Insider. 

If you’re anxious about how voting in November’s election will go, there’s good news: You as a voter can make more of a difference than you might think to make sure your ballot is counted, lessen the burdens on your election officials, and volunteer to serve your community to make the election run as smoothly as possible. 

“Be prepared, research your options, and consider them, because we don’t really know what will happen with the virus,” Lisa Marra, the top elections official in Cochise County, Arizona, told Insider. Arizona is currently seeing a particularly bad outbreak of COVID-19. “We haven’t even gone through the first phase yet,” she said.

FILE - In this June 23, 2020, file photo voting stations are set up in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center for voters to cast their ballot in the Kentucky primary in Louisville, Ky. Just over four months before Election Day, President Donald Trump is escalating his efforts to delegitimize the upcoming presidential election. Last week he made a startling, and unfounded, claim that 2020 will be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country." (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

In this June 23, 2020, file photo voting stations are set up in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center for voters to cast their ballot in the Kentucky primary in Louisville, Ky.

Associated Press


Make your plan to vote now:

Even before the pandemic, the US’ decentralized election system was complicated and difficult to navigate. And with millions of Americans temporarily or permanently relocating and election rules rapidly changing due to COVID-19, you’ll want to figure out the rules and requirements in the state you plan to vote well in advance. 

Some important questions to ask yourself:

At the bottom of this article, you can easily check your voter registration status or register for the first time, request a mail ballot, and find your closest polling location without even leaving this page with free tools from VoteAmerica.

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo a voter casts her mail-in ballot at in a drop box in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election. Just over four months before Election Day, President Donald Trump is escalating his efforts to delegitimize the upcoming presidential election. Last week he made a startling, and unfounded, claim that 2020 will be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country." (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

In this May 28, 2020, file photo a voter casts her mail-in ballot at in a drop box in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election. Just over four months before Election Day.

Associated Press


Flatten the curve of absentee ballot requests by requesting your ballot as soon as possible:

As absentee ballot requests have skyrocketed in recent weeks, officials in some places with previously low levels of absentee voting have struggled to meet the soaring demand on a short time frame, with thousands of voters in recent elections in Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Maryland, Georgia, and New York City reporting not receiving their mail-in ballots in time to get them postmarked by election day. 

“Unfortunately, our systems are not robust enough to handle this big change [overnight],” Cleaver said. “Local election officials have to process all these requests, and not all the ballots were mailed in time.”

Cleaver and other 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 similar scenarios playing out in states across the country this fall. 

“The overwhelming majority of people can apply for their absentee ballots now,” Cleaver said. “What we don’t want is this huge spike in October. We do not have the systems or the staff in place to handle a huge spike, or else what happened in Georgia will happen nationwide.” 

Unless you live in Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, or California, or counties in certain other states that are sending every registered voter a mail-in ballot for the November election, you’ll have to affirmatively request one from your local elections office. 

Before the pandemic, 28 states allowed any voter to request an absentee or mail-in ballot without an excuse, and 12 more states have made modifications to their laws to allow voters to request absentee ballots without a documented excuse either for upcoming primary elections or the November general election.

Marra told Insider she highly recommends that people vote by mail in this election, if it’s an easy option in their state, to avoid possible long lines at their in-person polling location. 

“I have been a vote by mail early voter for two decades and never had an issue with it,” she said. “It’s safe, secure, and verifiable, so I would strongly encourage people to do that.” 

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 burden on your local election officials, Marra and Cleaver said. 

In addition to the six states who are sending every registered voter a ballot this fall, voters can already request their November absentee or mail-in ballots in 37 states and the District of Columbia, according to VoteAmerica, which has published state-by-state guidelines and deadlines for absentee and mail-in voters. 

“Sign up now for your November vote-by-mail ballot,” Cleaver said. “The sooner you get it in, the better it will go. There are actual real-life humans on the other end who have to process these forms…and send things out, which is an elaborate process. The number-one thing Americans can do right now is to just sign up for vote-by-mail.” 

When you do get your ballot, make sure to carefully read the instructions before filling it out and sending it in.

Every year, thousands of mail-in ballots are rejected or challenged for being incorrectly completed, being improperly sealed, or missing the required signatures on the inner and/or outer envelopes. While many states have a cure process for voters to fix problems with their ballots, you can avoid an extra hassle both for you and your county election officials. 

You’ll be doing yourself a favor by making sure your ballot arrives with plenty of time for it to be counted and to resolve any issues that come up. You’ll also be helping out your local election officials by spreading out the rate at which ballots come over time and not overwhelming them with a last-minute rush of incoming ballots.

FILE-In this Tuesday, June 23, 2020 file photo, poll workers instruct a voter on where to go to fill out their ballot during the Kentucky primary at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. There was only one polling place open on election day this week in Louisville, Kentucky, and voting went relatively smoothly compared to other recent primaries amid the global pandemic. Does that mean other cities should consider the same in November? (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FILE-In this Tuesday, June 23, 2020 file photo, poll workers instruct a voter on where to go to fill out their ballot during the Kentucky primary at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. There was only one polling place open on election day this week in Louisville, Kentucky, and voting went relatively smoothly compared to other recent primaries amid the global pandemic. Does that mean other cities should consider the same in November? (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Associated Press


Volunteer to be a poll worker, if you’re willing and able: 

In recent months, states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Georgia, and Kentucky have had to slash in-person vote centers by up to 95%, and saw unusually long lines to vote in some places as a result.

The biggest factor contributing to the cutting of polling places and resulting long lines, experts say, is a lack of available poll-workers willing or able to staff in-person vote centers in the first place combined with last-minute cancellations of poll-workers who previously volunteered.

In most states, poll-workers are older and mostly retired Americans who are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. 

Despite the shift to voting by mail, tens of millions of voters will still be voting in-person this fall. In order to avoid similar hours-long lines at in-person vote centers this November, election officials and advocates are encouraging as many Americans as possible to step up and serve as poll workers, which is also a paid job. 

“It really is eye-opening,” Marra told Insider of her first experience being a poll worker in 2014. “There was absolutely zero talk about politics, because you’re so busy making sure everybody just gets the opportunity to vote and you see just how grateful people were. I really encourage it for people that are maybe even a little skeptical about the process, you learn so much.”

Poll workers help voters at every step of the way.

“They guide the voters through the whole process,” Marra said. “They check voters in, check ID here in Arizona, issue the correct ballot, and help voters figure out how to work the electronic equipment, and get the ballots in the tabulator. They really do it all, except they won’t tell you who to vote for or how to vote.”

You can also make a big difference as a polling place worker if you speak additional languages besides English, and are able to assist voters who may need extra help. 

Marra said that in her county, citizens can also help with the ballot tabulation process by becoming workers on the early election boards that count mail-in ballots before election day, serve on a local write-in board or audit board, or be a poll observer. 

I you do vote in person, Marra says, you should expect and plan for some long lines in order to make sure everyone can socially distance, and help make the process more efficient by researching all the candidates on your ballot in advance so you can fill it out as quickly as possible. 

“The other big reason I see lines at our county is that voters aren’t prepared,” Marra said. “If you vote in person, you get a sample ballot in the mail a couple of weeks before the election. That’s your time to sit down to research those candidates, fill that out, and bring it with you on election morning.”

Marra added: “I would say to voters, make sure you protect your health, wash your hands before you go home, wear a mask, and be very nice to your poll workers!” 

Don’t wait, take action today: 

You can use these easy and free tools from VoteAmerica right now to verify your voter registration status or register to vote, request an absentee or mail-in ballot, look up the location of your polling place, and contact your local elections office if you need additional help: 

 

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