August 25, 2020 — As we approach our upcoming election, it is important for our communities to understand that there are many ways to vote in the United States. These options can also be confusing and overwhelming. Voting options vary state by state. While some states have passed measures making it easier to vote, others have gone the opposite direction creating further barriers to access voting. States with regressive voting laws have focused their efforts on the disenfranchisement of primarily voters of color.
Registering to vote deadlines also vary state by state. People must be citizens of the United States and at least 18 years of age in order to be eligible to vote, although some states disqualify people based on their criminal background or whether the person may be in prison on the day of the election. In some states people can pre-register to vote when they are 16 so that they will automatically be registered on their 18th birthday. In addition, some states, such as Illinois, passed a law to allow for same day voter registration, meaning that you need not register to vote ahead of the election, rather, if you are not registered, you can register at the same time that you show up at the polls to vote. It is important for potential voters to understand the deadlines in their own state. In addition, there are apps, such as Voter Pal, that provide the user a simple way to find out deadlines and download voter registration information. However, voters may also go to their state’s Board of Elections website to obtain the details.
Early voting is available in many states. Early voting is an important way to ensure safe and expanded access to voting. States have many different formulas for early voting, some allowing voting ranging from as early as 46 days before the election to just a week before. In some states, there is no early voting option available.
Voting by mail is now an option in 43 states. Before COVID, only 34 states and Washington DC allowed voters to cast their ballots by mail. Voting by mail allows voters to cast their ballot by dropping it off in the mail, dropping it off at a secure ballot box or dropping it off at the election office in their district. Each state has different deadlines and requirements for voting by mail including when ballots must be postmarked or received by the board of elections.