Preparation is key.

By Blythe Copeland
August 26, 2020
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Elector holding documtents for the postal vote in front of the mailbox
Credit: Getty / Westend61

Whether you're passionate about national political issues or committed to getting new recycling bins in your township, voting in federal, state, and local elections is critical. "It's so important to vote, because voting is the means by which you can hold your leaders accountable for doing the things you want to see," says Andrea Hailey, the CEO of the nonpartisan voting registration site Vote.org. "In the last presidential election, 100 million people didn't show up to vote, and, at the end of the day, it's really hard to build a healthy and thriving democracy or community when not everyone's voice is heard." Make sure your vote counts this year with these four simple pre-Election Day tasks.

Check your voter registration status.

Before you can cast your votes for a local or national election, you need to register at your current address. Check your registration status online through your state's local elections board—USA.gov directs users to the National Association of Secretaries of State's Can I Vote page, which links to the website for each state—or by entering your name, address, and birth date on the registration page at Vote.org. Once you've registered, confirm the voter ID requirements in your state to guarantee you have a valid form of identification.

Decide how you want to vote.

Voter registration deadlines vary by state, from 28 to 30 days before the election to in-person on election day. For 2020, many states will expand their vote by mail programs so voters concerned about social distancing at the polls have the option to cast their votes from home. While some states—like Hawaii, Colorado, Utah, and Florida—have offered vote by mail ballots in the past, many others are working to scale up their programs to meet the increase in demand. "This is not new and it's widely supported," says Hailey. "What's pretty clear is that Americans in general want voting to be convenient, they want to have their voice heard, and they want several options on how to do that." But just as with registration, vote by mail requirements—including who can use an absentee ballot, the deadline for requesting one, and the return-by date—vary from state to state. Confirm your state's current rules on your election board website; via the National Conference of State Legislatures' absentee ballot page; or with the Voting and COVID-19 resources at Vote.org. And if you do decide to vote by mail, do so early—as soon as you receive your ballot.

Pay attention to your local races.

A presidential election can overshadow local races, but making your vote count means familiarizing yourself with the entire ballot, from your state governor to your town sheriff. "Your life is more likely to be directly impacted by what's going on the community in which you live, so it becomes even more important to be invested there," says Hailey. "If you care about the potholes in your street or who's policing your community or how your schools are being run or where resources are going in your city, a lot gets determined at the local level, whether it's the school board or the mayor's office—that's likely to touch you and your family the most." State election websites will list nominees for each position on the ballot in advance, giving you time to look up their policies, follow them on social media, and see if their values align with yours before you enter the voting booth. "The research does take time, and you do have to put in the work," says Hailey. "Instead of thinking of it as politics, think of it as community engagement. You're engaged with your community every single day so you want a say in how it's going to be run."

Mark important dates.

Make your preparation count by prioritizing your ability to vote on election day. "Just like with anything else you want to achieve, make a plan early," says Hailey. Keep track of deadlines and other important dates by signing up for text or email reminders from your local election board, the party you're affiliated with, or Vote.org—and then put alarms in your Google calendar. Arrange for childcare or an adjustment to your work schedule if you can, and check the drop-off points and deadlines for your absentee ballot. "Put the dates down and really make sure you are aware of them ahead of time and are ready to participate," says Hailey. "It's not something you want to passively think about on Election Day. There are people out there counting on you not to do it."

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