Since 2012, the fourth Tuesday of every September has celebrated National Voter Registration Day. On the heels of what many are considering the election of our lifetime, we wanted to be sure you are ready to go come November 3. On this day last year, nearly half a million people registered to vote— 3 times the previous record for a year without a federal election.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made things a bit different this go around for voting. As a result, each state offers some form of mail-in voting, but eligibility varies by state, even sometimes by county (Pssst: we have a state-by-state deadline guide at the very bottom). To break things down…
- States that are doing primarily vote-by-mail: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah Vermont, Washington
- States that allow voters to request a mail ballot with no excuse: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan Minnesota, Montana Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
- States that require an excuse: Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas
Ensuring your election participation
If you are in a state that requires an excuse, it doesn’t necessarily have to be so complicated. Some states are allowing residents to cite Covid-19 concerns as enough, though exact language may sound a little different. For example, in Kentucky you can select “Not able to appear at the polls on election day on account of age, disability or illness” on your absentee ballot request form to indicate Covid-19 concerns. To learn more about the specific rules for your state, you can head to Vote Save America to learn more about vote-by-mail rules, varying registration deadlines, if you can vote early and party affiliation rules. And if you do plan to vote-by-mail, various voting organizations recommend sending your ballot in by October 20.
In addition, Pew Research Center shows poll workers generally tend to be older. Just over half of poll workers were 61 years old and older in the 2016 and 2018 election, a group particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. So, despite the emphasis to vote-by-mail if possible, there is a push for healthy, low-risk candidates to sign up and work on Election Day. In fact, we are seeing unprecedented use of entertainment-linked facilities as voting centers. The NBA announced their arenas will be used “to fulfill this need for the election,” as did Live Nation with their concert venues. If you are able to work the polls, start by learning more here (and yes, you get paid).
Let’s back things up a bit. What if you need to register to vote? Most states allow you to sign up online. You can look up your state’s website on the National Conference of State Legislatures website. If you don’t see your state, you can fill out the National Mail Voter Registration Form. The document is on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website and is available in 15 different languages. If you aren’t 100 percent sure that you are registered, which is always good to check because some states clean out their rolls, you can find your answer here.
States that allow in-person registration on Election Day
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
Steps to take after registration
When the day comes to vote, the number one priority is to be informed (careful with what you’re wearing if you vote in-person!). Though all eyes are on the presidential race, it is essential to make informed decisions about who you vote for your local government. Ballots will give a little bit of information about candidates and propositions, but it is best to do your own research. Ballotpedia is a good place to start and legitimate news sources can offer insightful endorsements and explanations. When searching the internet, be sure what your reading includes concrete facts and trustworthy sources.
And to carry with us the spirit of National Voter Registration Day, spread the word! Civic engagement can even mean getting your friends or neighbors to sign up to vote. On top of our own actions, it’s important to have conversations about democratic participation. So share on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! Shoot your younger sibling a text or give your mom a call. For a real democracy to work, we have to all be in this together.