Coronavirus has upended every aspect of our lives, and our elections are no exception. John Dziurłaj explains how everyone can help their local elections officials, poll workers, and election offices ensure a straightforward, trusted election.
Between the global pandemic, changes to the Postal Service, and the ever-growing threats of misinformation and disinformation, the upcoming general election will likely be the most complicated of our lifetimes.
We all have a part to play in ensuring a straightforward, trusted election, which can be achieved through helping our local elections officials, poll workers, and election offices. Here are some ways everyone can help.
Use trusted, local sources
The U.S. Constitution generally empowers states to set the “Times, Places, and Manner” of federal elections. This often means what is true about elections in one state may not be true in another—making it critically important that voters use trusted, local sources of information. The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) provides a list of trusted election information sources by state.
When communicating with other voters online, take care to tailor your message to your audience. Discussing Election Day registration might help in Iowa but could confuse or even mislead voters in Missouri. Be careful when sharing stories, and if possible, corroborate them using government sources. I am often surprised by how often the media—both traditional and social media—gets parts of a story wrong. Usually, things are corrected within a day or two, but, by that time, the damage is done.
Plan to vote
Make a plan for how you’re going to vote. Is it by mail or in-person? Is it during early voting or on Election Day? Rules and timelines for voting vary by state and method, so be sure to research in advance to know what’s required.
Almost all states—I see you, North Dakota—require voters to be registered before voting. While some states will allow you to register on the same day that you vote, it is always advisable to register in advance of voting. Registration in some states ends as early as thirty days before an election, so check your registration status, and, if you need to, register to vote before October 5th.
Voting by mail
Voting by mail isn’t just convenient, for some it’s a necessity. If you’ve never voted by mail before, you’ll need to learn:
- If you are eligible;
- If you can request your ballot online; and,
- If you need to supply return postage.
For some of us, being prepared means buying stamps for the first time (they’re these little stickers…). It’s important to request your absentee ballot as soon as possible. But even more important is returning your voted ballot as soon as you’ve marked it. If returning within seven days of the election, consider another option like a dropbox or in-person return. This will help ensure your ballot arrives on time and is counted.
Voting in person
If you want to vote in person, make sure to bring any required identification—this varies by state—and know which polling location(s) you can use. As the pandemic continues to develop, polling locations will change, and consolidation is a very real possibility. You can check your assigned polling location by using a tool like Get To The Polls.
Be sure to check and follow local safety guidelines, including wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, to keep yourself and the poll workers safe. And, as much as I hate to say it, prepare for the possibility of long lines.
Work the polls
Because the ranks of poll workers are often filled with retirees who may be at high risk for COVID-19, there is a now an acute shortage of poll workers. Working the polls is great way to serve your community and get a first-hand perspective of democracy.
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a great resource for getting prospective poll workers in touch with their election offices.
It’s on us
Elections have never been more complicated, and the people who run them have rarely—if ever—faced this much scrutiny, intimidation, or stress. Each of us should play a role in supporting them—and we can.