Your guide to casting your ballot, what to do if you have trouble voting, and everything in between.
The 2020 election has already been fraught with chaos, angry back and forth over ballot deadlines, baseless allegations of fraud, and warring within the parties. Donald Trump has fueled much of that turmoil, tweeting false claims about the legitimacy of early mail-in voting and suggesting his opponents were trying to undermine Republicans by allowing people to cast a ballot safely.
While a record number of Americans have already voted in this year's election — more than 96 million according to the United States Elections Project — many are still planning to cast a ballot in person on Election Day. And for those who voted by mail or used a drop-box, being able to track that ballot to ensure their vote is counted is crucial.
Misinformation has so far been rampant and there's been plenty of confusion to go around. Here's what you should know for Tuesday's election, to clear away some of the fog.
What time do the polls close in my state?
In most states, polls open at 7 a.m., with a few exceptions. Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia all open at 6 a.m. local time. Idaho polling places open at 8 a.m. local time.
Vermont is a rare exception: Polls there open as early as 5 a.m., giving voters extra time to cast a ballot in person on Election Day.
Voters who don't have time to get to the polls until the evening should be advised that while most state polling locations close at 7 p.m., a handful close later at 8 p.m. Others, like Indiana and Kentucky, close earlier in the evening, starting at 6 p.m.
There are a few states that close later in the evening. Iowa and New York, for example, close at 9 p.m. local time.
And a few states are more complicated when it comes to scheduling: Kansas, for example, allows individual counties to close after 7 p.m.
Nebraska, which spans two time zones, opens polls at 8 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. in the Central Time zone, the eastern part of the state. Polls in the western end of the state, in the Mountain Time zone, open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
New Hampshire poll times vary based on municipality, though they must open prior to 11 a.m. and close no earlier than 7 p.m., according to Ballotpedia.
Poll hours in North Dakota vary. Be sure to check the secretary of state's website to look up your exact polling location hours if you live there, though most open between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and close between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Tennessee is also more complicated, allowing counties to set poll hours themselves. Check the secretary of state's website to see when your polling location is open.
How do I find my polling place?
The nonpartisan Vote.org has an easy-to-use locator to find polling places across the country. Just enter your home address and it will provide you with the address of where you can vote and when.
It also includes a list of official state sites, where you can find similar information.
Where can I track my ballot if I voted early?
Go the American Independent's guide for a state-by-state rundown of how to track whether your mail-in ballot has been successfully received and/or processed by your local elections officials.
State websites will require your full name, date of birth, and possibly some additional information. In most states, the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received is Nov. 3, though some states have slightly later deadlines.
If your ballot has not arrived, check out ProPublica's guide for information about how to cast a provisional ballot in person.
Who do I contact if I have trouble voting?
According to vote.org, you’ll want to bring your phone as well in case you have any difficulty voting or need to document any obstacles you encounter.
If you are given any misinformation while voting, or if you experience any intimidation, threats, harassment, or coercion, call and report the incident right away to the nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline at 866-687-8683. (For Spanish speakers, call 1-888-839-8682.)
If a poll worker tells you that you’re not on the voter roll, first make sure you are registered to vote and check whether you are at the correct polling place. If you verify both of these and are still told you cannot vote, call Election Protection and ask for help.
Whatever you do, know your rights and stay in line. If the polls close and you are in line, you are still entitled to vote. If you have technical difficulties with the voting machines, ask for a paper ballot, and, if you make an error on your ballot, ask for a new one.
How long will it take to know the results of the election?
Some years, an election winner is readily apparent. But with a pandemic in play, everything looks a little different in 2020.
According to the Washington Post, this is the first election in the nation’s history to have the majority of Americans vote by mail. So waiting on pandemic-related mail-in voting results could delay the final count this year by up to several weeks.
The New York Times reports that 22 states as well as the District of Columbia allow for mail-in ballots to be counted if they arrive after the election, as long as they were properly postmarked before Nov. 3.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology elections expert Charles Stewart III told the Times that comparatively, more Republicans are voting in person this year and more Democrats by mail. So state results may not be immediately clear, as counts might initially appear to favor Trump before all the mail-in votes arrive.
According to a Vox report, of six key swing states in the presidential election, three — Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina — will likely announce results quickly, while Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, whose ballot-counting processes are more cumbersome, will probably take longer.
After all mail-in votes are counted, states are expected to appoint their electors by Dec. 8, with Congress certifying the election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.