Voting can be confusing in the best of times, and 2020 is not the best of times.
To help you navigate the process, we’ve put together several guides, including how to vote in each state, where you can vote by mail, how much time you have to vote by mail, when your ballot will be counted, how many absentee ballots have been cast already and what states President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. need to win.
But we know you may still have questions, so we’ve highlighted some of the top voter concerns for you here. If you have a question that we haven’t covered, please let us know by filling out this form. We will update this page regularly.
Key concerns about the 2020 election:
Dates and deadlines
When is Election Day?
Tuesday, Nov. 3.
When is the deadline to register to vote?
It varies from state to state.
In some states, including Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, it has already passed. In others, including Michigan and Minnesota, you can show up at your polling place on Election Day and register on the spot. Others have deadlines between now and Election Day.
You can confirm your state’s registration deadline here.
When does early in-person voting start?
In many states, early voting is already underway. The first polls opened in mid-September, and around 7.8 million people have already voted.
You can find your state’s options here.
When are mail-in ballot deadlines?
Every state has different deadlines for requesting and returning ballots. You can find yours here.
In some states, election officials will accept ballots received after Election Day as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. But there have already been delays and other snags in sending out mail-in ballots, and some of the extended deadlines could be overturned in court.
Given the uncertainty, it’s best to request and submit your ballot as early as possible.
How to vote
Where do I vote?
Each state has an online portal where you can look up your polling location. You can find the link to your state’s portal through our voting guide; just select your state, your registration status and the “in-person” option.
If you’re still not sure, you can contact the election office in your county.
Do I need identification to vote?
It depends on where you live. Some states require photo identification, some require proof of residence but not a photo, and some require no identification at all.
You can look up your state’s requirements in our voting guide.
Do I have to vote in every race on my ballot?
No. The votes you cast will be counted even if you leave some races blank.
That being said, local and state officials can have just as much impact on your life as federal officials do — if not more — so it is worth taking the time to research the candidates and vote in those races.
Where and how do I vote if I moved recently?
Check with your state election board to see where you qualify as a legal resident, keeping in mind that the rules vary by state. To vote in New York, for example, you need to have lived there for at least 30 days before the election.
If you want to vote in the state you moved from, request an absentee ballot right away. Most states are allowing any registered voter to request a mail-in ballot during the coronavirus pandemic, but the request deadlines have already passed in many states.
If you want to vote in the state you moved to, you may still be able to register there, although some states’ deadlines have passed. Many states don’t require an in-state photo ID, but you will most likely need to provide proof of residency, such as a utility bill.
You can read more about your options here.
I received a message saying I can vote online or by text message. Is that true?
No. You cannot vote online or by text message. Any message claiming otherwise is false and should be reported as election disinformation.
To find out how you can vote, you can use this guide.
Voting by mail
What’s the difference between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot?
For the most part, these are just different names for the same thing. Florida offers “vote-by-mail ballots” and New York offers “absentee ballots,” but there is no meaningful difference between the two.
A small handful of states, including Pennsylvania, do draw a distinction: They offer mail-in ballots to any registered voter but require a reason, like a disability or illness, for absentee ballots. Whichever ballot you request, the voting process is basically the same either way.
- How to Vote: Many voting rules have changed this year, making it a little trickier to figure out how to cast your ballot. Here’s a state-by-state guide to make sure your vote is counted.
- Three Main Ways to Vote: We may be in the midst of a pandemic, but whether you vote in person on Election Day, a few weeks early, or prefer to mail in your ballot this year, it can still be a straightforward process.
- Do You Still Have Time?: Voters in 35 states can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted. Here’s a list of states where it’s risky to procrastinate.
- Fact-Checking the Falsehoods: Voters are facing a deluge of misinformation about voting by mail, some prompted by the president. Here’s the truth about absentee ballots.
How do I request a ballot?
You can look up your state’s ballot request procedures here. If your state’s request deadline has passed, you won’t be able to vote by mail, but you can still vote in person — either at an early-voting site or at your polling precinct on Election Day.
Do I need a witness to sign my mail-in ballot?
In most states, the answer is no. But if you’re voting in Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina or Wisconsin, you will need a witness to sign your mail-in ballot envelope.
Like many other voting rules, witness signature requirements have been subject to lawsuits. If you’re not sure whether your state has one, contact your local election officials.
What happens if the signature on my ballot is rejected?
Many states will contact you if your signature is rejected and give you an opportunity to fix the error, a process known as ballot “curing.” In other states, unfortunately, officials are not required to notify you, and your ballot may be discarded. You can read more about the signature matching process here.
Signature requirements have been the subject of numerous lawsuits this year, and courts have generally — but not universally — ruled that voters have a right to be informed if their ballot is rejected and given an opportunity to cure it.
How do I know if my ballot was received and counted?
Most states have a website where you can track your mail-in ballot. You can find the link for your state in our voting guide.
Do mail-in ballots count only if it’s a close race?
No. Mail-in ballots count exactly the same as in-person ballots. Many states will report in-person results first, but every valid ballot will be counted equally no matter how it was cast.
Can I vote in person if I requested a mail-in ballot?
It depends where you live. Generally speaking, you can take your mail-in ballot to your designated polling place and exchange it for an in-person ballot. Some states let you complete your absentee ballot in person and hand it in, or fill out a provisional ballot. But every state has different rules, so be sure to check with your local election officials.
One thing to be very clear on: You cannot vote twice. Intentionally doing so is a felony, and every state has safeguards in place to prevent it.
When will we know the results?
Votes cast in person on Election Day should be counted that night, but the timeline for counting mail-in ballots will vary by state. Some states, including Florida, allow election officials to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day, and those states may be able to report nearly complete totals on election night. But states that require officials to wait until Nov. 3 will need days or potentially even weeks longer.
If the question is “when will we know who won,” it depends how close the race is. If it’s a blowout, we might be able to tell on election night. If the race is close, though, be ready to wait.
If the media calls the race on election night when votes still need to be counted, should I trust it?
Given the huge number of mail-in ballots this year, and the possible delays in counting them, it’s best to err on the side of caution. If a candidate claims victory on election night before news outlets call the race, or if one news outlet is calling it but nobody else is, you should not take those claims at face value.
Most major news outlets, however, will set a very high bar for calling the race and won’t do so if there is any doubt about the outcome. It is possible, under certain circumstances, that the race could be called in an accurate, trustworthy way on election night: If, for instance, Mr. Biden were to win Florida and North Carolina, which are expected to count their votes fairly quickly, that would leave Mr. Trump with no realistic path to victory.
Why does the Electoral College override the popular vote?
The short answer is: because the Constitution says so. Article II of the Constitution calls for presidents to be chosen by the Electoral College, not by direct popular vote.
There are 538 electors total, and a candidate needs a simple majority of 270 to win the presidency. The number of electors each state has is based on its population, and each state can decide how to allocate its electors. Most do it based on the statewide popular vote, but Maine and Nebraska award some electors to the winner of each congressional district.
If one candidate wins large states by huge margins, they can win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. This has happened several times, including in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Mr. Trump narrowly won key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Can Trump legally challenge a Biden win?
Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses. While he cannot directly dispute the result in court, he could challenge voting methods and election processes in an effort to change it.
Republicans in various states are already challenging mail-in ballot laws and voting procedures, and the Trump administration has sued some states, like North Dakota, for passing more accessible voting laws. Mr. Trump has said that he wants his Supreme Court nominee confirmed before Election Day because he expects the court to rule on post-election challenges — an extremely unusual occurrence.
Could lawsuits affect the voting process?
Definitely. There are many ongoing lawsuits around voter registration deadlines, ballot receipt deadlines and more.
The Supreme Court will decide, among other things, whether election officials in Wisconsin must accept ballots received several days after the election if they are postmarked by Election Day, and whether election officials in Pennsylvania must accept ballots received after the election if the postmark is not clear. Federal appeals courts are considering whether Texas and Ohio can limit counties to only one ballot drop-off site. And that’s just a small selection.
How do I report voter suppression?
There are three official channels to report voter suppression. You can contact the election office for your state or territory, file a report with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department or complete this form.
The Justice Department also runs a voting rights hotline at 1-800-253-3931, and the American Civil Liberties Union runs a nonpartisan hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
Jacey Fortin contributed reporting.