The New Normal: Voting Matters
Here’s what you need to know about the 2020 election, how you can stay informed, and ways to navigate the electoral landscape this November.
10 min read
November 3rd is just around the corner, and this election is unlike any other we’ve ever experienced before. Not only are we in the middle of a global pandemic, but we’re facing one of the most divisive political landscapes in memory. And with so many things at stake, from climate change, to COVID-19, to social justice, it’s understandable that you might feel voiceless, anxious, or not entirely represented. While it’s easy to be cynical and feel like your vote won’t make a difference, there are many reasons you should participate in this election.
These days, knowing how to vote or who to vote for has also become a lot more complicated and possibly even stressful. Not only is there a sea of disinformation and “fake news” to navigate, but you also have to deal with potential health concerns, mail-in ballot logistics, and generally being bombarded with confusing or often contradictory information.
However with some planning, time, and know-how, you should be able to exercise your right to vote and make your voice heard this November. We’re here to help you navigate the ins-and-outs of voting, and give you resources to help you be informed and prepared come Election Day.
Registering to vote
Registering is the first step you must take to be able to vote this election. If you haven’t registered already or aren’t sure if you have, you should be able to easily check online. If you’re not sure, you’ll probably want to double check anyway, since sometimes names get removed by mistake, and you won’t want to wait until you show up to vote to find out. There are plenty of resources out there for registration information, but an impartial government site like vote.gov is your best bet. This process doesn’t take very long and will guarantee your right to vote. Voting deadlines will be here before you know it, so you’ll want to register as soon as you can.
Keep in mind that if you’ve recently changed your address, name, or want to change your political affiliation, you must re-register. You may already know this, but in order to vote in U.S. elections, you need to be a citizen (natural born or naturalized) and 18 years of age or older. If you’re not 18 but will be by Election Day, you’ll want to check your specific state’s requirements, as you might be able to register ahead of the election.
Voting by mail
Voting in the middle of a global pandemic can be particularly daunting, especially if you’re part of a vulnerable population. However, it’s estimated that this year a record number of people will be exercising their right to vote by mail. No matter what you’ve heard, voting by mail is safe, legal, and in many states, a widely-used alternative to in-person voting. Some states, like Utah, have robust vote-by-mail systems, while many others are improving their mail-in voting infrastructure to accommodate increased demand during the pandemic.
You might have heard of mail-in voting referred to as “absentee voting” or “universal vote by mail.” While there are some key differences, they’re very similar rules for all of these. You’ll still want to check your specific state’s rules regarding mail-in ballots and absentee voting to understand what you should do to be able to vote by mail. Here are some possibilities:
In some states like California, Delaware, and Illinois, ballots will be mailed automatically to everyone.
This year most states allow some form of mail in voting, but voters must specifically request a mail-in ballot.
A handful of states (including Texas and Louisiana) require a valid excuse like illness to vote by mail.
Make sure to request and mail your vote as early as possible, since many states require your ballot to arrive by or on Election Day. Before you mail in your ballot, make sure you’ve followed directions carefully and signed everywhere as instructed. You want to make sure that your vote counts.
Fact check: While many believe that mail-in ballots will only be counted in tight races or elections, this is wrong. All votes will be counted and factored into the results, although there’s a possibility that a clear winner will become apparent before all votes are tallied.
Fact check: While there has been some misinformation about whether you can “game the system” by voting both by mail and in person, know that this is illegal in the U.S. and constitutes voter fraud.
If you’d rather vote in person, but don’t feel comfortable voting on Election Day, or want to avoid crowds and long lines, most states allow for some form of early in-person voting (or early absentee voting) without an excuse. However, there are a few exceptions. If you live in Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina you’ll need a valid excuse to vote early in person, while Oregon and New Jersey allow for limited in-person voting, since they will hold elections almost entirely by mail.
To find your early voting polling place and early voting information, check your state’s elections office site.
The f-word, identifying “fake news”
As if you didn’t have to deal with enough content saturation online, "fake news" and misinformation are particularly rampant this election season. While it can be tempting to share and retweet every story that supports your own political views, propagating stories that twist the truth or outright spread lies is not only problematic but possibly dangerous. Some social media platforms are making an effort to flag misleading posts and stories, but many experts feel like these efforts don’t go far enough. So it’s really up to all of us to fight the spread of misinformation this election season. Here are some tips to help you spot “fake news” and a few things you can do to keep them from spreading:
“Is this a real news site?” If the website seems unfamiliar or misleading, it’s likely not a reliable source of news. Keep an eye out for websites pretending to be legitimate news sources, but using fake URLs.
“Is this a joke?” While some sites are deliberately trying to mislead people, keep in mind that sources like The Onion aren’t actually reporting the news but rather publishing satire on current events.
“Who wrote this?” Even if the source seems credible, sometimes the author of a story will give you a clue about a story being slanted or false. Keep an eye out for inflated credentials, or especially biased points of view.
“Who are they citing?” Fake news articles will sometimes cite data from official-sounding sources, but on closer inspection, these are not real or credible. When in doubt, dig deeper about where stories are getting their facts.
If you spot “fake news” or misleading posts on social media, you can usually flag them to be taken down. Don’t feel like you have to engage internet trolls, or start uncomfortable debates with relatives and acquaintances who might not respond well to being called out. If someone close to you is sharing misinformation, it’s better to approach them directly and point out any issues in a non-confrontational way. Remember that a primary objective of “fake news” is to trick people into sharing these false stories.
Want to do more? Get involved
If you’re still feeling helpless or unrepresented, or you simply wish you could do more to make a difference this year, we have good news for you. You can! There are many ways that you can get more involved in this election. If you’re particularly passionate about a candidate or issue, consider phone-banking or donating money if you’re in the financial place to do so. If you’d rather go the non-partisan route, you can donate your time to organizations like Rock the Vote, dedicated to voter registration and education. Here are a few more things that you can do if you’d like to get more involved:
Talk to family and friends. A good way to get involved this election season, is to talk to those close to you about issues you care about. Sharing your personal perspective is usually a great way to get others involved and engaged.
Call people in swing states. If you feel like your vote might not count as much in your home state, you can have conversations with voters in one of many swing states. Just keep in mind that these voters are often flooded with outreach, and might not be as receptive to having a heated debate.
Send postcards. If jumping on the phone isn’t something you’re particularly comfortable with, sending postcards to swing voters is a great alternative to make sure people turn out to vote and have the right information for their state.
Be a poll worker on Election Day. If you’re healthy and able to take time off, poll workers are needed to make sure elections run smoothly. Since poll workers tend to be older Americans, this year it’s especially important to help out if you can.
Help turn out voters. There are many ways for you to get out the vote on Election Day, from making phone calls to help people find their polling place, to organizing your office to go out and vote together (or a post-voting happy hour). Whatever you do, be sure to stay safe, and observe social distancing and health measures.
Voting with your wallet
While participating in national and local elections is an essential way to make your voice heard, there are other ways to support the issues that you care about. Being mindful with how and where you choose to spend your money can have a significant impact year-round. It isn’t a matter of donating money to a political candidate, campaign, or organization, but more about buying from businesses that support or represent causes that you care about.
Before you spend, ask yourself if a particular business is socially responsible, or donating to a cause or organization you don’t agree with. There is plenty of information a Google Search away to see if your favorite brands are doing enough to tackle the issues heavily impacting our society – from racial and gender inequity, to climate change, to wage discrepancies. If a particular company doesn’t measure up, look for alternatives that are more aligned with your values.
You might also ask yourself if you are able to make the same purchase by supporting small businesses near you. Small businesses, particularly those owned by minority groups, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and could use your support. Being deliberate with your spending will help you support those that need it the most, and signal larger companies to make better decisions based on consumer spending habits.
Here are a few more resources that will help you stay informed this election:
Vote.org Nonpartisan voting registration and get-out-the-vote technology platform.
Vote.gov Government voting and election resources portal.
Vote Save America Website, initiative, and a community to help guide you through the voting process.
FactCheck.org Nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
PolitiFact Nonpartisan fact-checking site.
Rock the Vote Organization empowering young people to be an active part of the election process.
Fortune’s Change the World Comprehensive list of companies exploring the impact of corporate social responsibility practices.
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