What you should do now to safely vote during COVID-19

Simple steps to participate in democracy and preserve your health

Joe Ready

It’s been said so many times at this point, it’s almost cliché: the coronavirus pandemic has upended every part of our society. Every one of us is having to rethink every decision we make, and every interaction we have, in the context of risk: What’s the risk to my health, and am I risking the health of those around me?

While there’s certainly some risk in everything we do these days, we know that there’s also a spectrum. On one end, we know that large, sporting-event-type gatherings are clear no-nos, and on the other end, we also know that going for a walk in a local park with a mask on is much safer.

In-person voting on Election Day is on the relatively higher-risk end of activities, especially if there are no other options. That’s why states across the country have been scrambling since the outbreak began to adapt their voting systems to accommodate more mail-in or absentee voting, while maintaining sufficient and socially-distant in-person locations. With a little over five months until the November presidential election, state officials need to keep that effort going full steam.

But while states are making the big, structural changes to make voting safer and more accessible for more people in November, there are steps voters can and should take now to ensure their own safety and participate in democracy. All the noise and partisan fighting about voting by mail, especially at the national level, shouldn’t obscure the fact that in many places, the solution is actually quite simple. 

Update or confirm your voter registration

Don’t wait to update your voter registration, especially if you’ve moved since the last election. Even if you haven’t changed addresses, it’s good practice to look up your registration info to make sure that everything is correct. If it’s not correct, your ballot or application will be sent to the wrong place.

Most states (39) allow you to update your voter registration online which, besides being easier and faster, is obviously much safer in a pandemic. All states should have online voter registration. But if you live in a state that doesn’t, you’ll have to print out a form, fill it out and mail it in to your local elections office. If you don’t have a printer, you might have to do it in person. Call your local office to get the latest information on hours, availability and what’s the safest way for you to update your information.

Request your absentee ballot for November

If you live in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Utah or California and your voter registration is up to date, your work is done. That’s because those states will mail every registered voter a ballot.

In all other states, you’ll have to take the extra step of requesting an absentee ballot. Do it as soon as possible, so that you have more than enough time to address any hiccups, and so that it’s done and you don’t need to think about it.

All states allow some mail-in voting, but policies can differ dramatically. And in response to COVID-19, many states have changed their previous policies to accommodate more voting by mail. Rather than go through every state here, check out this VICE article or go to your state and local elections websites.

If you have to vote in-person, be prepared

While mail-in voting is by far the safest option, there are still many people who need to vote in person for one reason or another. If you need to vote in person, make sure you’re prepared.  Check the location of your polling place, and see if early voting is an option, because crowding and lines are less likely in the days before Election Day. And of course, wear a mask and practice social distancing when you do actually go to the polls to vote.

Stay up to date on changes

Things are changing rapidly by the day. The best way you can stay prepared to vote in 2020 is to be informed as best as possible. Check with your secretary of state for updates and changes to election plans.  

While many future plans are uncertain at the moment, Election Day 2020 on November 3 isn’t one of them. There are concrete steps you can and should take now to ensure your own safety and ability to participate in democracy.


Joe Ready