Election Day 2020 is Tuesday, Nov. 3, but it’s unlikely that all voters will choose to cast their ballots in person. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there will likely be an increase of mail-in votes, as many people avoid crowded polling places. If you’re thinking about voting by mail instead of voting at an in-person polling location, here’s what to know about the deadline to vote by mail, to make sure you’re prepared.
The first thing to remember is that there are two different important deadlines: one to request your mail-in ballot, and another to send it out. Also, every state handles elections differently, so you should start by checking your state’s mail-in ballot requirements, which you’ll be able to find on your state’s board of elections website. Voting information websites like Vote.org also have full lists of all the deadlines, state by state, in one handy place.
Some states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah — automatically use all-mail voting which means all registered voters in those states will receive a ballot in the mail without requesting one, no matter which party they’re registered with. Otherwise, you’ll want to make sure you also apply for a mail-in ballot on time. Some states require an excuse or reason to vote by mail, but some states may be loosening guidelines for absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it's important to check your state's guidelines. According to guidance from the United States Postal Service, you should also request your ballot as early as possible: "We recommend that jurisdictions immediately communicate and advise voters to request ballots at the earliest point allowable but no later than 15 days prior to the election date." That means you'll need to file a request for a mail-in ballot no later than 15 days before Tuesday, Nov. 3, which is Tuesday, Oct. 20 (and it’s better if you do it ASAP).
You'll also have to keep in mind the transit time to ensure the ballot gets to its destination by Election Day. "The Postal Service recommends that domestic, non-military voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials," says USPS, so you’ll want to have it in the mail by Tuesday, Oct. 27 (and again, even earlier if possible!). Most states also offer a way to track ballots online through the office of the secretary of state or a system called MyVote.
Before you can request even your mail-in ballot, though, you'll need to make sure you’re registered to vote. The deadline to register to vote varies by state, from as many as 31 days to as a few as seven days before Election Day, so check your state’s guidelines. Some states also allow same-day voter registration for in-person voters, with requirements like proof of residency or other documents that, again, vary state by state. If you’re registering to vote by mail, you may be able to request an absentee ballot directly during registration, but if it is not offered, you must apply separately.
So, there are quite a few dates to keep in mind as you prepare to vote by mail, but if you aren’t planning to go to your polling place on Election Day, you'll need to vote by the above deadlines (or earlier, if possible) to make sure your vote is counted.