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What You Need to Know About Voting By Mail

If You're Voting by Mail This Year, Here's What You Need to Know

Empty envelopes of opened vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary are stacked on a table at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Historically, voting absentee hasn't been an easy process for the entirety of the U.S. Some states, in the past, have required a valid excuse for voters to vote absentee, which has proven to be tricky for some voters who simply do not have the time to wait in line at the polls but still want to cast a ballot. This year, because of COVID-19, mail-in voting has become a bit easier, but it's still incredibly important to make sure you're adhering to deadlines and casting your ballot properly to ensure it doesn't get rejected. Ahead, we're breaking down the key things you need to know about voting by mail in the November election.

What Deadlines Do I Need to Know?

The most important thing you need to do is check your state's deadlines here. You have to be signed up for mail-in voting in advance. While these dates vary by state, we recommend checking your state's guidelines soon so you can get registered and make sure you receive your ballot with enough time to fill it out and return it.

Ballots largely need to be received by election day (not just postmarked by then). However, we recommend looking up your own state and reading the guidelines and any changes or exceptions that have been made because of COVID-19. Because mail can be unpredictable, your best bet is to return your filled-out and signed ballot the same day you get it in the mail.

If you saw the Instagrams and tweets circulating recently that stated that election day is actually Oct. 20 because of how long ballots take to move through the mail, Poynter's Politifact argues that it's not necessarily true. While it's not bad to get your ballots in the mail sooner rather than later, it doesn't mean you should panic and not mail in your ballot on Oct. 21 because you forgot to do it on Oct. 20. Some states still count ballots after election day, so check to see what your state's true deadline is and go from there. But to be safe, just mail the ballot in as early as you can.

How Do I Fill Out My Ballot?

Carefully follow the directions to fill out your ballot when you get it in the mail and make absolutely sure that you sign it and follow any other signature rules your state currently has. Ballots can be rejected if they aren't signed according to guidelines. Some states require the signature to match what's on file, some states require notarization, or more. Check your state's guidelines in the chart here (and keep up with the lawsuits currently circling to challenge the stricter rules). Then mail your ballot back as quickly as you can so you can make sure it arrives on time. If you're able to drop it off at the post office, that's great. You can even drop off your ballot at a polling place if your area has that, but just make sure to return it promptly.

When Should My Ballot Be in the Mail?

If you can, fill out your ballot and mail it back immediately. This will lessen the chances of it not arriving on time. Once you get your ballot, it's best to carefully fill it out and put it right back in the mail the same day or the next.

Image Source: Getty / JASON REDMOND
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