The Vote By Mail Rules You Should Follow To Correctly Fill Out Your Ballot

With Election Day just around the corner, many voters who’ve never cast their votes by mail are preparing to do just that amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While regulations can vary from state to state, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your vote is counted in the 2020 election. To make sure your ballot isn’t rejected, make sure to follow these vote by mail rules.

While the 2020 presidential campaign season has been plagued with unfounded claims that mail-in voting leads to voter fraud, there is no evidence that mail-in voting could compromise the electoral system. What voters should pay attention to is correctly filling out mail-in ballots. According to The Washington Post, more than 534,000 mail-in ballots were rejected during the 2020 primaries in 23 states, most due to minor errors. Kylee Zabel, a spokeswoman for Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, told Salon during a Sept. 8 interview, "Ballots are most commonly rejected for late postmarks, or missing or mismatched signatures.” Reports have found that BIPOC voters are twice as likely to have their ballots rejected due to technicalities.

As states have expanded the ability to vote absentee by mailing in a ballot, they’ve also rolled out new policies that could trip up people when voting by mail. For example, the Texas governor limited the number of ballot drop box locations to one per county, state Republicans admitted to placing misleading ballot drop boxes in California, and Pennsylvania became the first state to immediately disqualify ballots received without a required secrecy envelope.

If you’re someone who’s voting by mail for the first time or just need a refresher, here’s what you’ll want to double-check as you mail in your ballot.

Fill out your mail-in ballot.

When registering to vote and requesting a mail-in ballot, plan to do everything as soon as possible. The U.S. Postal Service has expressed concerns about an influx of mail, meaning delays in postage are a possibility, and you should request a mail-in ballot as soon as possible, but no later than two weeks prior to Election Day, which is Tuesday, Oct. 20. Once you’ve gotten your ballot, you’ll want to keep all your voting materials in one place and read the directions carefully when filling them out. Experts have expressed concern that mail-in ballots can be disqualified due to simple mistakes. While requirements for witnesses, notaries, and other additional documentation vary from state to state, there are a few rules you’ll want to make sure you follow:

  • Use a blue or black ink pen to fill out your ballot.
  • Write out the complete year (i.e. 10/14/2020).
  • Sign your voter declaration envelope.
  • Make sure your signatures match across all documents.
  • Make sure you put a stamp on the outer envelope.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS), 11 states require voters to use a secrecy envelope. If you live in one of those states, make sure to seal your ballot in the smaller "secrecy" envelope before putting it in the larger voting declaration envelope to be mailed. Philadelphia elections chief Lisa Deeley warned that up to 100,000 mailed-in "naked ballots" could be disqualified without voters being told, due to a Sept. 17 ruling. In 2016, President Trump won the state by less than half that number, with a margin of 44,292 votes.

Mail in your ballot.

The first thing you should do when you get your mail-in ballot is check what your state’s deadline is for returning it. If you want to send in your ballot via mail, USPS suggests voters send in completed ballots no later than Tuesday, Oct. 27. However, due to the influx of mail-in ballots, you should send it in as soon as possible.

You can also drop off your mail-in ballot in person. However, keep in mind that your drop-off location may not be the same as your in-person polling place. When you drop off your ballot, keep in mind the social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of June 22, which suggest you wear a face covering, stay at least six feet away from others when possible, and avoid crowds by going during off-peak times.

Nearly every state allows voters to drop off their ballots in person at their local election office. You can search your state Board of Elections website or Secretary of State’s website to find your closest election office. If you don’t live near an election office, you might be able to drop off your ballot in another location, like a secure ballot dropbox, which you can find locations on your Secretary of State’s website.

Voters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Washington D.C. can drop off ballots at any in-person voting location in the county where they’re registered, according to the NCLS. Voters in New Hampshire and Vermont are allowed to drop off their ballots to their precinct’s polling place on Election Day.

Check your ballot was received.

Once you’ve submitted your ballot by mail or by dropping it off at a secure location, you can track it online to make sure it’s counted. If you encounter any issues like forgetting to use a secrecy envelope or officials thinking there is a signature discrepancy between your ballot and the one they have on file, you might be able to correct any errors if you live in one of the states that allows you to do so.

Voters who realize they made an error will want to contact their Secretary of State’s office as soon as possible to remedy the mistake. If you’re not able to correct your signature or encounter another error, you can request a provisional ballot from your polling place to fill out instead. Remember that voting is a right for all eligible citizens, so do your research and fill out your mail-in ballot carefully to make sure your voice is heard come November.

Your voice matters. So does your vote. Make sure both are heard and counted in the 2020 election by registering to vote right now.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily’s coverage of coronavirus here.

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