Casting Your Vote: A Guide to Voting in 2020
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
COVID-19 concerns have prompted many voters to turn to mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election. (Tiffany Tertipes/Unsplash)
How is voting different this year?
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our country in ways that we have never seen before, and with the 2020 presidential election coming up this November, there is no doubt that voting this year will look a lot different than in years past.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, people felt more comfortable (and were more likely to) vote in person. But as the pandemic surges and health concerns increase, more and more voters have no choice but to vote by mail.
The secureness of mail in ballots have become a rising concern over the past few months. Although the notion that mail-in ballots leads to voter fraud has been in circulation, election experts agree that it is unlikely that mail-in ballots enable corruption.
Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote At Home Institute, and Charles Stewart III, the director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, debunked the myth of fraud by mail-in balloting in an article by The Hill: “Voter fraud in the United States is exceedingly rare, with mailed ballots and otherwise…across the 50 states, there has been an average of three cases per state over the 20-year span…We are talking about an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.”
This controversy over mail-in ballots has shifted from a mere conspiracy to a larger political tactic and power-move. President Donald Trump has refused to provide the U.S. Postal Service with much-needed funding for mail-in ballots. The president himself linked his opposition to the funding of the Postal Service to his own agenda in the upcoming election.
“They need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all these millions and millions of ballots. If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said.
Why do I need to vote?
Voting is an essential part of democracy. Casting a vote is effectively using your voice to influence the nation’s future. It’s important to understand that the right to vote is not simply a privilege afforded to you, but a responsibility as a citizen.
The fight for universal suffrage has lasted for centuries. In the late 18th century, the founding of the United States granted the right to vote to all adult males. But it wasn’t until 1870 that the 15th Amendment expanded the franchise ― the right to vote ― to include Black Americans. And until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified, all women were denied suffrage.
But even though the right to vote could not technically be denied on the basis of sex or race, the struggle for equal voting rights continued to develop long past the early 20th century. Racially discriminatory laws and practices were put into place to disenfranchise ― take away voting rights from ― Black voters, until the civil rights movement put an end to literacy tests, poll taxes, and other methods of voter suppression. And more recently, voter intimidation and other forms of voter suppression can stop potential voters from exercising their rights.
Universal suffrage for all adults is a fight that has spanned centuries, generations, and movements. The people who fought for their voices to be heard believed that voting is a universal, essential right inherent to every adult citizen.
Furthermore, voting is not just a right you are free to exercise, but as a citizen, it is an obligation you are responsible to fulfill. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, the Founding Fathers believed that power comes not from the government, but from the people, who must first permit the government to hold power. The idea of the consent of the governed is the cornerstone of democracy and characteristic to America.
As a citizen with power vested in you, it is your responsibility to influence how the government uses the power granted to it. Your voice is a key part of our democracy, and your vote does matter.
In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush. The election was so close that votes in Florida were recounted. Bush won Florida ― and thus, the election ― by only 537 votes. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump won the presidency by Electoral College even though Hillary Clinton won by popular vote.
Even if polls may favor one candidate over another, elections can be narrow and may come down to a few key swing states or a small number of voters. It may seem like your vote won’t have a direct influence in the election, but your vote has more of an impact than you think. It’s your civic duty to contribute to a nationwide discourse and help decide the future of America.
How do I register to vote?
Registering to vote and casting your ballot will look different depending on the state. Visit Vote.gov to register to vote. The website will give you directions on registering to vote, whether online or by downloading a form to fill out and send in.
If you want to register to vote in person, you can check with your local or state election offices. Other public facilities ― the department of motor vehicles, armed forces recruitment centers, and other public assistance offices such as SNAP and WIC ― may be equipped to help you to register; check with your specific location to find out.
If you are a U.S. citizen outside of the U.S., including service members stationed abroad (or family members or spouses of a service member stationed abroad), the Federal Voting Assistance Program allows you to register and request an absentee ballot.
How do I vote by mail?
Despite President Trump’s effort to inhibit mail-in balloting, several states already have mail-in voting in place. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have made it easier and more accessible to vote by mail.
You can get your absentee ballot to vote by mail from your designated state or territory. Some states may require a valid excuse in order to vote by an absentee ballot, and acceptable reasons vary by state. For specific information about how to vote by mail in your state, visit https://www.nass.org/can-i-vote/absentee-early-voting.
For more information about voting in the upcoming election, visit https://www.usa.gov/how-to-vote.
How is voting different this year?
Why do I need to vote?