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Feeling out of the loop when it comes to early voting? We’ll fill you in

Will you vote early?
Will you vote early? (Pexels stock image)

You’re seeing people’s Facebook status updates: They voted!

Not to mention, Facebook itself is urging you to get out and vote -- everywhere you look, the vibe is, “Do it now! Why wait until Election Day?”

It makes sense. But it might seem daunting if you’ve never done it before.

So if you’re feeling a little left in the dark, as in, you still don’t realize all your early voting options, we’re here to fill you in.

Of course, a lot of voting rules come down to what state and community you’re in. But we can tell you the following ...

You can likely vote early.

Each state has mail-in voting.

You know what this is: Absentee voting. But some states allow you to take part only under certain circumstances, as in, you need an excuse to vote by mail (like if you’re away at college).

Other states have loosened their rules, considering the coronavirus pandemic.

In many places, if you’re still interested in mail-in voting, the deadline is Friday to request a ballot. Hurry hurry!

When it comes to early, in-person voting ...

Again, it’s up to the state when it comes to specifics, timelines and more. But it’s an option for more and more people this year.

Here’s an early voting chart, that lists time frames and details, broken down by state.

If your community offers it, cool. It’ll feel good knowing your ballot will be counted, you’re turning it in in-person, and you won’t have to wait around in line on Election Day. The process is fairly similar to what you’d experience on Election Day. More on this in a second.

But no, you can’t vote online.

In federal elections in the U.S., this still isn’t permitted -- not on Election Day and not in early voting.

Maybe someday!

Right now, the only way you can vote without going in person to a polling place is to use an absentee ballot.

If you determine your state lets you vote early and in person, start by looking up your polling place.

It might not be your usual precinct.

Also, in a lot of places, you might not even have a specific polling place. Officials will just make a certain number of locations available, and you can pick the precinct that’s most convenient.

But don’t assume anything. Considering COVID-19, there have been some changes to polling places overall. So regardless of whether you’re heading out now or on Election Day, it’s always smartest and safest to look up your precinct or polling place options ahead of time. You can do that here.

Author’s note: A lot of the early voting places where I live have very specific hours. You can show up at any of them as long as you’re a registered voter and you have your proper ID handy, but you’ll definitely want to make sure they’re open when you arrive. Don’t just assume all have 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours. Oh, and if your schedule is tight, it’s worth mentioning: You might even be able to make an appointment at some precincts.

What if you received an absentee ballot, but you’d like to vote in person?

Every state has different rules on this one (we’re starting to sound like a broken record), so look up your state or local election office to check on the procedures.

Typically:

  • You’ll take your absentee ballot to your designated polling place.
  • Depending on your state’s rules, you might exchange your uncast absentee ballot for an in-person ballot, or complete your absentee ballot and hand it in -- or cast a provisional ballot.
  • If you forget to bring your absentee ballot with you, you may be able to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted once your election officials verify your voter status.

Do you have to vote for the party with which you’re registered?

In a word, no.

Your state may give you the opportunity to declare your political party affiliation on your voter registration card.

But no, you do not have to vote for the party you’re registered with, in a federal, state, or local general election.

Here’s where this gets tricky: In a presidential primary or a caucus, depending on your state’s rules, you may have to vote for the political party you’ve registered with. But don’t worry about any of that right now. You can vote for whichever party you’d like in this coming election.

*Most information was taken from this federal website.


Did that help? We hope so! Let us know what questions you have about early voting, in the comments below.


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