The U.S. Postal Service is in trouble: essential mail services that many Americans rely on are being reduced amidst an ongoing political battle. One of those essential services is mail-in voting, which is expected to be exponentially larger this year due to the pandemic.
USPS has already warned that in some states, there won’t be enough time between when ballots go out to voters and Election Day deadlines for them to be returned and counted.
This is obviously a huge problem, especially for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and cannot vote in person. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to ensure that your mail-in ballot is delivered in time regardless of what happens with USPS.
Whether you expect to vote in person or by mail, make a plan right now. Check your state’s deadlines for requesting and submitting absentee ballots, and ensure your voter registration is up to date.
Of course, just because you request your mail-in ballot now doesn’t mean you’ll receive it immediately. Most ballots go out later in the fall, which is why USPS is concerned about narrow turnaround times. That said, try to get your ballot as early it’s available, and then use one of the following options to submit it to reduce the burden on the Postal Service.
If you’re healthy and at low risk for COVID-19 and your state offers early in-person voting, you can consider going to the polls (and following very specific safety guidelines) instead of voting by mail. Lines are often shorter during early voting periods, especially if you go at off-peak hours.
Go directly to a ballot box
Almost all states accept mail-in ballots at county clerk or board of elections offices ( here are some resources to find yours), so you can hand-deliver your ballot ahead of and up to Election Day. This is the safest option for the largest number of people, and even if your county office is out of the way, it’s well worth the effort to ensure your vote is counted.
In addition, 11 states offer ballot drop boxes in some or all counties. These are monitored and emptied by county or elections officials, not USPS. Five of the 11 are the pre-pandemic universal vote-by-mail states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington), plus Arizona, California, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico.
If your state isn’t on this list, check with your county elections office anyway to see if you have a drop box option for this election cycle.
Drop your ballot at your polling place
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states plus DC allow voters to drop ballots off at a polling location in their county, either during early voting or on Election Day. Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
If you live in New Hampshire or Vermont, you can deliver your ballot to a polling place in your assigned precinct.
Again, check with your local election officials to see if this option is available.
Help deliver ballots
This one is a little bit tricky, as many states have strict rules about who is allowed to handle an absentee ballot other than the voter themselves. If do you have family members or neighbors who can’t get to a ballot box, you may be able to deliver their ballot for them so they don’t have to rely on the mail.
Before you pick up someone else’s ballot, check your state’s rules on this chart.
Track your ballot
Regardless of how you submit your mail-in ballot, you may be able to track its progress to ensure your vote is counted. About half of all states have some sort of ballot tracking system.