A Quick Guide to Voting by Mail in 2020 (Plus: Ideas for Engaging Kids!)

With so many things in flux in 2020, there’s not a lot that’s in our control. But one way we can make a deliberate choice for the future is by voting, and by teaching our kids the importance of exercising this right.

Election Day (Nov. 3) is fast approaching. Tens of millions of Americans have already cast their votes, whether by mail or early voting. Whether you plan to vote in person or by mail this year, make sure your vote counts by following all of the rules and requirements for your state. Below is a quick guide to understanding the absentee voting process.

How do I Vote by Mail in 2020?

First, if you’re voting by mail, fill out and return your ballot as soon as possible. Don’t wait! Mailing your ballot or turning it in to an official ballot collection place early both gives enough time for your ballot to arrive and be counted, but some states allow you to correct your signature if it doesn’t sufficiently match your voter registration card, but deadlines for this can be tight.

It’s not required to vote by mail in 2020 (polling places will still be open), but it may be an easier or more comfortable option for you. States are simplifying the vote-by-mail process in 2020 due to the coronavirus, and each state has different rules. Be sure you’re registered to vote before getting started. (Some states like California allow you to register up to the day of the election if you’re voting in person. Check your state’s deadlines and rules.)

In some states you need to have a reason for requesting an absentee ballot instead of voting in person. In other states, such as Ohio, anyone is eligible to vote via absentee ballot. This year, some states are sending ballots automatically, and others are sending forms to request one.

Sound confusing? Just check the rules for your state. Visit the website for the National Association of Secretaries of State and choose your state to find the rules and regulations you should follow.

To make sure your vote counts, be sure to follow the directions on your absentee ballot request and actual ballot exactly. And make sure you’re requesting the correct ballot – some states may have other elections before the general election this year.

During 2020’s primary elections, more than half a million ballots were rejected due to errors. Some states require privacy envelopes inside the mailing envelope and won’t count your ballot without them. All states require a signature that matches the signature on your voter registration card.

So, fill out and mail your ballot as soon as possible, read and follow directions carefully, use black ink, pay attention to deadlines, triple check that you’ve added your signature in the required places, and check your envelope for postage requirements—if your state doesn’t pay for postage, remember to add a stamp! 

Once you’ve mailed your ballot, most states have ballot trackers so you can check its progress through the system, and some states even allow you to correct the signature on your ballot after it has been received. You can find a list of states that allow correction of a signature here, but double check current rules.

Can I Still Vote in Person if I Requested an Absentee Ballot?

If you change your mind and want to vote in person on Election Day, you may still be able to vote at your local polling place.

Again, rules differ by state. Check your state’s specific guidelines here.

READ: PGK and Political Participation: Why Raising Civically-Minded Kids is Important »

Ideas to Help Engage Kids

Now is a great time to teach kids the importance of voting and how their voice can be heard. Many schools hold mock elections, but since this year may be different, we’ve collected ideas to help you get your kids engaged at home.

  • The Election Collection from PBS is a great resource to help older kids (grades 6-12) understand more nuanced issues relating to the election, such as why the U.S. has a two-party system and how the Electoral College works.
  • The iCivics Election Headquarters offers lesson plans, games, and guides to teach kids about the importance of voting and how they can get involved, even if they can’t vote yet.
  • VOTE411 allows you to see who’s on the ballot for your area. Kids can learn about issues and candidates and see how voters should make informed decisions on their choices.

While the presidential election naturally garners most of the attention, show kids that local and state elections happen on the same day, too. Tell them why voting at the local and state level is so important—because the people we elect and ballot measures we vote for or against impact our daily lives even more than federal elections.

Involve them in your voting process, whether that’s putting your absentee ballot in the mail together or pointing out the local polling place.

More Resources for Families

For a wide variety of reasons, 2020 has been a difficult year for most families. But there’s always a chance to grow, learn, and make a difference even in the most challenging of times.

Browse our selection of activities to help your family get involved and make life brighter for people who need it most. Many activities can be done from anywhere and don’t require a lot of time or effort. This season, help kids see that positive works and attitudes can have big results.

See All Activities