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Election 2020 is drawing closer. Get to know the crucial dates. cottonbro/Pexels
Election 2020 is drawing closer. Get to know the crucial dates. (cottonbro/Pexels)

Election 2020: From Mail-In Voting to Crucial Dates, Here's What to Know Early

Election 2020: From Mail-In Voting to Crucial Dates, Here's What to Know Early

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Leer en español.

The 2020 election is upon us. Read on to find out what's going to be different this year, and the dates you need to know.

First off, remind me: When is Election Day again?

Election Day 2020 is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

However, election officials are encouraging voters to vote early (by mail or in-person) in order to avoid crowding at the polls. They argue that crowding at voting locations could prove dangerous for the spread of COVID-19, or cause long lines that have been shown to discourage voting. So it's helpful to think of November 3 as your last day to vote in this election — rather than necessarily the day you should vote.

What's different this year?

1. Everyone gets a mail-in ballot

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, if you're registered to vote you'll be receiving a mail-in ballot with which to vote in the November election without requesting it. Remember: It'll be sent to the address at which you're registered to vote, so check that your address is correct. And if you're not already,  you can register to vote online before Oct. 19.

If you see information online about the deadline to request a mail-in ballot (Oct. 27), don't worry. That deadline is for requesting a new mail-in ballot — say, if you've made an error filling out the one you were already sent.

2. Everyone should bring their ballot along to vote in person

One big thing to know this year: if you decide you want to vote in person on Election Day itself, you should bring the ballot along with you.

What happens if you arrive at the polls without your ballot? You can still vote in person, but you may be required to vote provisionally. A provisional vote is a vote that's subject to extra checks (ie. that you're actually registered to vote in California, or that you didn't already complete and mail your ballot.) This extra layer of confirmation takes time, and therefore means your vote might not be counted on Election Day itself — although it'll be eventually counted.

Why do you have to bring your ballot with you to the polls? It's because people who opt to vote by mail-in ballot always have to bring their ballot with them to vote in person, as proof they didn't already mail it and aren't therefore voting twice. It's just that this year, all registered voters in California are getting sent a ballot in the mail — i.e becoming mail-in voter by default, even without requesting it.

3. Your ballot is being given more time to get there

We know folks are already voicing concerns about how changes at the U.S. Postal Service might impact the delivery of completed mail-in ballots. In California, your ballot must be mailed and postmarked on Election Day at the latest, but the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received has been extended to Nov. 20 (from Nov. 6) — to allow your ballot extra time to reach your county elections office. You'll also be able to drop off your completed ballot by hand at any drop box, polling location or county elections office.

4. Voting in person might look different

You can still absolutely vote in person at the polls despite receiving your mail-in ballot (remember: bring it along), but the voting experience and your polling place may be very different because of the pandemic. Counties have been advised to prepare for lines that maintain social distancing and to have face coverings on hand for voters who don't have one.

Poll workers will also be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce their own risk. Some polling places may also be consolidated. More information should be coming as November draws closer.

When should I register to vote?

Your official deadline to register online to vote is Monday, Oct. 19. Why not do it ASAP?

If you want to mail in your voter registration, your request must be postmarked by the same date as the online registration deadline: Monday, Oct. 19.

Remember, if you've changed your name, or the political party choice you previously registered to vote with, you'll need to re-register.

Not sure if you're already registered to vote or can't remember what party preference you already have? Check your voter registration details here.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 19.
The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 19. (Element5 Digital)

OK, I know I want to vote by mail. What specific dates do I need to know?

Remember, registered voters will be receiving a mail-in ballot without requesting it this year (so we'll say it again: Check that your address is correct.)

As for using it, you can postmark your mail-in ballot on Election Day itself, as long as it's ultimately received by Nov. 20. If you've seen stuff online saying you need to make sure your ballot is received by Election Day (and therefore that your "vote-by-mail Election Day is actually in October), that does not apply in California.

That said, the official advice from the California Secretary of State's Office is: Don't wait. They're encouraging voters to see Tuesday, Nov. 3 as their last day to vote, rather than the day they should vote.

Can I track my mail-in ballot?

Yes: all registered voters in California can now sign up for a new online tool to track the status of their mail-in ballots for the November general election.

If you sign up for the 'Where's My Ballot?' system, you can receive automated notifications via email, text or phone when your county elections offices have mailed out your ballot — and when your completed ballot has been received and processed.

When are the debates?

The first presidential debate is Tuesday, Sept. 29. The second is Thursday, Oct. 15. The third and final presidential debate is Thursday, Oct. 22.

The vice presidential debate is Wednesday, Oct. 7.

How do I stay on top of all these dates and deadlines?

Glad you asked! We've got several easy ways to help you stay informed:

  • Sign up for our News Daily newsletter from the KQED newsroom, which will remind you of big upcoming dates
  • Sign up to get texts from KQED, and get a message from us when a crucial voting deadline is looming
  • Click here to add our election deadline calendar to your Google Calendar, and be notified of pressing dates in September, October and November.

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Just give me the big dates again, in one list?

Sure. The ones which might require action from you are in bold.

  • Sept. 29: First presidential debate
  • Oct. 7: Vice presidential debate
  • Oct. 15: Second presidential debate
  • Oct. 19: Deadline to register to vote — online or postmark your registration if you’re doing it by mail
  • Oct. 22: Third and final presidential debate
  • Oct. 27: Deadline to request a mail-in ballot if you need a new one (if you're registered to vote, remember, you'll be receiving one without requesting it)
  • Nov. 3: Election Day, the day to vote in person and your deadline to postmark your mail-in ballot

Tell us: what else do you want to know?

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