Re-Approaching Voting: Make your vote count!

By and

550,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2020 primaries, disproportionately disenfranchising young voters and people of color. How do you make sure your vote is counted in November?

We hear over and over that the upcoming election is undoubtedly the most important of our lifetime, and that we must make our voices heard this year. 2020 has been incredibly challenging for all of us.

As students, we’re all pretty new to voting. And we know that with the current political, public health and economic crises, coupled with cuts in USPS funding, voting may feel stressful and inaccessible. Democrats and Republicans alike are uniting to fight disinformation and defuse partisanship around vote-by-mail to ensure safe elections this year. Luckily, this past summer we took a deep dive into elections and voting through our work with the Stanford Law and Policy Lab. We learned just how easy it is to disenfranchise youth voters like ourselves. 

That’s why we’ve created this guide about how to vote effectively and safely in 2020. For answers to commonly asked questions, keep reading:

  1. Am I registered? 
    • Vote.org can help you figure out your registration status. 
    • And so can StanfordVotes. You can even volunteer to help others register!
  2. What’s the difference between an absentee ballot and a vote-by-mail ballot?
    • They’re the same!
  3. How should I vote this November?
    • Your options depend on what state you live in and whether you are allowed to use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee. Check out this resource for a full, state-by-state guide to requesting your mail-in ballot. 
    • We recommend you vote by mail because it’s much safer in terms of the pandemic. Even so, most states will not automatically send you a mail-in ballot. If you live in one of those states, you have to request one.
  4. What are my options?
    • Again, it depends on your state. You’ll likely have a couple options:
      • Request (or automatically receive, depending on your state) a vote-by-mail ballot and then,
        1. Drop it off at a Ballot Drop Box. This is the best way to guarantee that your ballot counts. 
        2. Mail it through USPS. It’s recommended you do so at least two weeks early, and with stamps to prioritize your mail!
      • Vote in-person. There will be safety precautions to ensure social distancing and limited contact. To read more, check out the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project
  5. What’s the deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot? What’s the deadline for sending it back?
    • Deadlines vary state by state (you see a common theme here), but the USPS advises requesting and sending it as early as possible due to slow service.
  6. How do I sign my ballot?
    • Once you’ve sealed your envelope, just sign the back of it. Nobody else can sign your ballot for you. Your signature is checked against the signature on file at the local elections office to prevent fraud.
  7. What does my signature on file look like?
    • It’s most likely the one you signed at the DMV when getting your driver’s license or state ID. Check the back of your driver’s license or state ID.
    • If you don’t have a state ID, use the signature on your credit or debit card.
  8. How do I ensure my ballot is not rejected?
    • Ballots are rejected because they’re not signed, not signed with a signature that is on file, or because they’re mailed too late. 
  9. Just to be clear, I don’t have to physically mail my mail-in ballot?
    • Nope! Requesting a mail-in ballot simply means that your ballot will be mailed to whichever address in your voting registration. Once you have the physical ballot and envelope, you can drop off your ballot at a local Ballot Drop Box or mail it in.
  10. What will be on my ballot?
    • You’ll have national, state and local candidates/initiatives tailored to your locality.
  11. What if I don’t know who to vote for?
    • Your elections office will send you a nonpartisan voter guide describing the candidates’ positions for all the offices, and the pros and cons of different initiatives.
    • Also, you can do some online research. Use trusted sites! 
  12. Is vote-by-mail safe? 
    • In terms of the pandemic, it’s very safe. With vote-by-mail, you will minimize your contact with others — that’s why you should try to do it. The chance of your mailbox infecting you is near zero!
  13. Is vote-by-mail reliable?
    • Yes. There is an abundance of evidence showing that it is reliable, nonpartisan and increases voter turnout equally across parties.
  14. What if I’m homeless?
    • It is recommended that you list your shelter address as your voting address. More information can be found here
  15. What if I’m not a U.S. citizen?
    • Barring only a few states, DACA recipients cannot vote. Although, there are some counties that allow DACA recipients to vote, like Chicago and San Francisco. If you’re undocumented, you can’t vote.
    • Some localities also allow green-card carriers to vote in their local elections. Check with your local elections office for more information. 

While voting is the one of most important things you can do as a citizen, in this election you have one more opportunity to show up for democracy. You can be a poll worker.

Most poll workers are over 60, and at higher risk during the pandemic. There will be a serious shortage this November, leading to long lines. Those who are discouraged by the wait will leave the line, and they will be disenfranchised. So if you are able, consider becoming a poll worker and sign up with Power the Polls! You will get paid for doing important work that guarantees the health of our civic life.

Finally, remind your family, friends and neighbors to register to vote. It’s our collective responsibility to make sure we all participate in our democracy.

Contact Pranavi Kethanaboyina at pranavi ‘at’ stanford.edu and Eli Shi at eshi2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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