Many states are expanding options at the polls to provide an easier and more convenient way to cast your ballot, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, 47 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer options to vote in person or by mail before Election Day. (Some states are still updating their policies so consult your local election office’s website if you’re unsure about your options.) Choosing to vote early instead of waiting until Election Day helps keep you and your community healthy. The lines are typically shorter when you vote early, and the opening and closing times are reasonably generous in most states.
Here’s how to cast your ballot safely—and soon.
Confirm your eligibility for early voting.
Start at a site like Vote.gov to find out if your state offers early voting and when the period begins. The time frame for early voting varies widely. Some states begin their early voting period just five days before Election Day while others open in-person early voting more than a month prior.
The process also varies across the map. In some places, early voting is limited to absentee in-person voting, where you may be required to visit a board of elections office and ask for a ballot. Other states set up fully functioning polling places for their early voters. Jot down the details about when, where, and how to vote early where you live.
Find out if your state offers weekend options.
Many states keep their polling locations open on Saturdays, or even Sundays, allowing more people to vote on a day when they’re not working. The options for weekend early voting can change based on where you live, though; some states allow county clerks to choose whether or not to allow Saturday or Sunday voting.
Check the end date.
In many states, the early voting period ends a few days before Election Day. Make sure you note when that period closes in your state, lest you get stuck standing in a long line on the big day.
Protect yourself and others from COVID-19 at your polling site.
To avoid waiting in lines with large groups of people, consider voting at off-peak times, such as midmorning or early afternoon. And regardless of whether there’s a crowd or not, don’t forget to practice physical distancing, cover your face, and clean your hands before and after voting to keep everyone safe.
Vote early by mail, if you prefer.
If you can’t or don’t want to leave your house, states have gradually become more permissive with absentee voting in recent years, and some are relaxing their requirements because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The majority of states now allow no-excuse absentee voting. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington all hold 100 percent mail-in elections, while California, D.C., Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont are sending all registered voters ballots by mail for the first time. Learn more in our guide to voting by mail.
Feel free to vote early in-person, even if you’ve requested an absentee ballot.
If you’ve chosen to vote by mail but prefer to deliver your ballot yourself, you may also fill out an absentee ballot and drop it off at an early voting location. (Almost all states also allow voters to deliver their signed absentee ballots in person at their local election office too.)
Whatever your chosen method of voting is, it’s critical to vote as early as you can. It will prevent postal service delays—or any other unforeseen circumstances—from silencing your voice.
If you’re voting in person on November 3, go prepared, take the usual COVID-19 precautions—and have patience.
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing unprecedented challenges for the 2020 elections. Find out how to vote by mail and cast your ballot safely and successfully this year.
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