A Guide to Early Voting
Dear Rich Lifer,
With less than a week until the election, many states are seeing historic levels of early voting as people cast their ballots through mail or during early voting.
In fact, many states (35, including D.C.) have already received more early ballots than they did in the 2016 presidential election in total.
Nationwide, early voting for the general election has already surpassed four years ago when 58.8 million people cast early or mail-in ballots.
67.8 million ballots have already been cast in the upcoming election.
This tremendous influx of early voting — both in person and via mail — has definitely presented challenges for local election officials who are urging voters to brace themselves for a longer-than-usual counting process.
States are hoping to curb this issue by buying extra machines to tabulate votes, adding extra staff to count ballots, and in some cases extending deadlines.
State changes are already prompting contention in the courts. For example, on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to revive a trial court ruling that would have extended Wisconsin’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots to six days after the election.
Only time will tell whether election day will turn into election week, so for today, we will focus on the key things you should know about these final days of early voting and what you can do to make sure your vote counts.
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Voting By Mail
If you have already voted by mail, congrats!
Only five states (Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) do not allow mail-in voting unless you have a valid excuse — excluding COVID.
One great thing about voting by mail is that most states (except Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi) allow you to track your ballot to ensure that it has been received and your vote is being counted.
The type of tracking available to you depends on what state you live in and sometimes, as in Texas and Illinois, which county.
If your state allows mail-in ballot tracking, you can register to track your ballot on your state’s election website. Some states, like Nevada and Colorado, even have step-by-step tracking, where you can follow the entire process of your ballot being sent, received, and then accepted or rejected.
If you live in a state that has this type of tracking, make sure you check if your ballot has been accepted or rejected. Some states will allow you to fix ballot issues such as signatures or voter identification errors — both common reasons for ballots to be rejected.
If you have not voted by mail and your state has early in-person voting, it may be wise to drop off your ballot instead of mailing it. At this point, so close to the election, many state election officials are encouraging voters to drop their mail-in ballot at an in-person early voting site.
You can use this locator to find official ballot drop boxes where voters can safely and conveniently leave their ballots.
28 states only count ballots that are received on or before November 3. 22 states (plus D.C.) will count all ballots that are postmarked on or before election day. The states that accept ballots after election day make up 59% of the electoral college votes — one of the main reasons why declaring a winner might take more than a day.
You can find the full list of states on this interactive mail-in voting map
Early In-Person Voting
For voters who are unable to vote by mail or would rather vote in person, almost every state offers some form of early in-person voting to all voters.
An excuse is necessary to vote early in person in Mississippi and Missouri. New Jersey and Oregon allow limited early in-person voting because their elections will be conducted entirely by mail. Connecticut does not allow any in-person early voting.
While early in-person voting was initially seen as an easy way to make sure your vote is counted, many states are already seeing issues with early voting.
Voters said several factors had led them to vote early in person, including concerns over the coronavirus and mail-in balloting, as well as participating in what voters for both parties described as a historic election.
However, states like Texas and Georgia saw huge lines with long waits to cast early votes.
Lack of staff, computer issues, and the sheer volume of voters all contributed to the extended wait times, which got up to eight hours in places like Gwinnett elections headquarters in Lawrenceville in Georgia.
If you plan to vote early, make sure you are prepared for long waits. Bring water and snacks and dress for the weather. Consider bringing a book or something to entertain you while waiting.
But with all these votes being cast early, when will states actually begin to count ballots?
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The Counting Process
In a handful of states, election workers can’t begin the work of opening envelopes, verifying signatures, and removing secrecy sleeves – let alone counting – until the day of the election.
State law in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example, does not allow election officials to process or count ballots until Election Day. Michigan election workers can begin processing ballots a day in advance, but they can’t be tabulated until November 3.
These states represent three of the key battleground states that will likely decide the election.
Election officials are attempting to calm voters with warnings that immediate election results do not mean there has been fraud; instead, it simply means that counting the plethora of mail-in ballots will likely take extra time.
Rachel Rodriguez, an election official in Wisconsin, stated:
“If we don’t have results at 9 or 10 p.m. on election night, that doesn’t mean there’s anything nefarious going on. It doesn’t mean that there’s any sort of conspiracy. It doesn’t even mean that there’s a problem. It just means that clerks are still trying to count ballots and they are trying to make sure that everybody’s votes are counted.”
We will likely all be holding our breath on November 3, and maybe November 4 and 5, to find out who will be the winner of the election.
To a richer life,
The Rich Life Roadmap Team