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Presidential Election 2020: How to Vote in 5 Key Battleground States

Presidential Election 2020: How to Vote in 5 Key Battleground States

  • As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge election preparation efforts, I provide a guideline for how to vote in 5 critical battleground states.
Swing state map 2016

Following guidelines on voting registration, absentee ballots, and voter ID laws can be confusing even in the best of times.  The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has sparked even greater uncertainty around how to conduct a national election.  With just under 100 days until the November 3rd presidential election, ironing out voting guidelines will be paramount to facilitating a fair and orderly electoral process.  This stands for all states and territories, but particularly in battleground states, where a few thousand votes may make or break a candidacy.  Below, I have summarized the most critical guidelines, dates, and take-aways for five key states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona.

Before delving into the specifics of each state’s voting laws, here are a few general insights:

  • All five states have “no-excuse absentee voting.” In other words, any registered voter may request a mail-in ballot.
  • All mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day.  Postmarking a ballot on November 3rd is not enough. If mailing your ballot, you must post it with enough time to reach your local election office by November 3, preferably dropping it in a mailbox a week in advance.
  • All five states have voter ID laws, which require voters to bring certain forms of ID with them if voting in-person. Please check your state’s guidelines for acceptable forms of ID.
  • Michigan and Wisconsin allow same-day voter registration whereas voters in Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania must register to vote days or weeks prior to the election. Also, please make sure to submit any changes in your name, address, or political party, to your local election officials in advance of Election Day.
  • Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona allow in-person early voting; Pennsylvania and Michigan do not.
  • If you choose to vote in-person on Election Day, you will most likely be assigned one polling place. Please verify the location of that place; you will most likely not be allowed to vote at any other location.
  • If you choose to vote in person at the polls on Election Day and you are still standing in line, waiting to vote when the polls’ closing time arrives, you are still entitled to vote.
  • When in doubt, please contact your local election officials (usually the County or Municipal Clerk’s Office).
STATEPENNSYLVANIAMICHIGANWISCONSINFLORIDAARIZONA
DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTEOctober 19, 2020By mail/online: October 19, 2020
In-person at the clerk’s office: November 3, 2020
By mail/online: October 14, 2020
In-person at your clerk’s office: October 30, 2020 at 5:00pm
At the polls on Election Day: November 3, 2020
October 5, 2020October 5, 2020
DEADLINE TO REQUEST AN ABSENTEE BALLOT (REQUEST MUST BE RECEIVED BY THIS DATE)October 27, 2020 at 5:00pmBy mail/online October 30, 2020
If pre-registered and requesting a ballot in-person, then November 2, 2020.
If same-day, in-person registering, then November 3, 2020.
By mail/online October 29, 2020
Request in-person: Dates/times vary, please contact your Municipal Clerk for more information
October 24, 2020October 23, 2020
DEADLINE FOR BALLOTS TO BE RECEIVED BY THE COUNTYNovember 3, 2020 at 8:00pmNovember 3, 2020 at 8:00pmNovember 3, 2020 at 8:00pmNovember 3, 2020 at 7:00pmNovember 3, 2020 at 7:00pm
IN-PERSON EARLY VOTINGn/an/aOctober 20-November 1, 2020 Please contact your Municipal Clerk for more informationOctober 24-31, 2020 Dates may vary by locationOctober 7-30, 2020, Dates may vary by location
IN-PERSON VOTING ON ELECTION DAYNovember 3, 2020, 7:00am-8:00pmNovember 3, 2020, 7:00am-8:00pmNovember 3, 2020,Generally 7:00am-8:00pm, Hours may varyNovember 3, 2020, 7:00am-7:00pmNovember 3, 2020, 6:00am-7:00pm, Hours may vary

1. PENNSYLVANIA

Map of Pennsylvania's counties
Source: AnonMoos

Registering to Vote

If you haven’t already done so, please register as soon as possible, either online, by mail, in person, or at a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or other government agency.  The deadline to register is October 19, 2020; the county office must receive your application by this date.

Not sure if you’re registered? Follow this link to check and be prepared to enter your name and PA Driver’s License information. Also, be sure to update your voter registration with any changes in name, address, or political party.

Voting

By Mail-in/Absentee Ballot:

Pennsylvania has joined a handful of states this year in allowing any registered voter to apply for a mail-in ballot online, by mail, or in person at your nearest county election office.  Application forms are available online in English or Spanish. The deadline for the county to receive your application is the Tuesday before the election at 5:00pm, in this case, October 27, 2020.  

Once you receive your mail-in ballot, make sure to fill it out, place the ballot in the secrecy envelope, seal the envelope, and then put the sealed secrecy envelope into the official envelope.  Sign the ballot form, or your ballot may not count. Your county election office must receive your mailed or hand-delivered ballot by 8:00pm on Election Day (November 3) for it to be counted.  Postmarks do not count; your ballot must be in the hands of an election official by the November 3rd, 8:00pm deadline to be counted.

In-Person on Election Day

If you wish to vote in person, please look up your assigned polling place.  (You will only be allowed to vote at that location).  Due to COVID-19, some polling locations may be closed so make sure to double-check your correct location before you go vote. 

Polling locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m on November 3rd.  When you arrive, please make sure to wear a mask and follow any social distancing instructions. If you are still in line waiting when the polls close, you are entitled to vote.

If you have voted at your polling location previously, you do not need to show ID.  However, if this is your first time voting at your particular polling location, than you are required to show ID (photo or non-photo) in the form of a:

  • Driver’s license
  • U.S. passport
  • Military, student, or employee ID
  • Voter registration card
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check
  • Any ID issued by the commonwealth or federal government

Please note that any non-photo ID must have your address on it.  You have the right to voting assistance if you have difficulty understanding English, are blind, disabled, unable to operate the voting machine, or cannot read the names on the ballots.  You may request help from a friend, relative or another voter and you do not need to be designated as “assistance permitted” beforehand to receive assistance.

2. MICHIGAN

Map of Michigan counties

Registering to Vote

In Michigan, you may register online if you have a Michigan Driver’s License or state ID card, and otherwise by mail or in person.  If you register by mail, then complete this form and postmark or deliver it to a county clerk or secretary of state office at least 15 days before Election Day (October 19, 2020). If you register in-person, then you may register as late as Election Day (November 3) by visiting your city or township clerk office with residency verification.  Check here if unsure of your registration status.

Voting

By Mail-in/Absentee Ballot

Any Michigan may request a mail-in ballot. To submit your request, you may apply online or by mail.  On your application, you may also request to vote absentee in all future elections.  If requesting by mail, then send your completed form to your county clerk. All requests for a mail-in ballot must be received the Friday before an election (October 30, 2020). The only exceptions are if you are requesting an absentee ballot or registering to vote in-person at your county clerk’s office. According to Michigan’s website:

“If you’re already registered at your current address, you can request an absent voter ballot in person at your clerk’s office anytime up to 4 p.m. on the day prior to the election. If you’re registering to vote or updating your address by appearing at your clerk’s office on Election Day, you can request an absent voter ballot at the same time you register. If you request your AV ballot the day before the election or on Election Day, you must vote the ballot in the clerk’s office. 

Once you receive your mail-in/absentee ballot, you must complete and mail or deliver it to your clerk’s office by 8pm on Election Day (November 3).  But, you’re allowed to submit your ballot up to 45 days before the election, so if possible, send in your ballot early! According to Michigan’s website,

Your ballot will not be counted unless your signature is on the return envelope and matches your signature on file. If you received assistance voting the ballot, then the signature of the person who helped you must also be on the return envelope. Only you, a family member or person residing in your household, a mail carrier, or election official is authorized to deliver your signed absent voter ballot to your clerk’s office.”

In-Person on Election Day

If you wish to vote in person, please look up your assigned polling place.  Polling locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m local time on November 3rd. According to Michigan voter ID laws, you must bring a photo ID with you to the polls. Your photo ID could be: 

  • Michigan driver’s license or state-issued ID card
  • Driver’s license or personal identification card issued by another state
  • Federal or state government-issued photo identification
  • U.S. passport
  • Military ID with photo
  • Student identification with photo from a high school or accredited institution of higher learning
  • Tribal identification card with photo

Your ID does not need to list your address. If you do not have a photo ID or forget to bring it with you, you may still vote by signing an affidavit stating that you are not in possession of photo identification. 

If you have an emergency that prevents you from going to the polls on Election Day, please follow these instructions to file an emergency absentee ballot.

3. WISCONSIN

Wisconsin counties map
Source: Alexrk2

Registering to Vote

You may register to vote online, by mail, in-person at your municipal clerk’s office, or at the polls on Election Day.

  • If registering online, please register through the MyVote Wisconsin website, and be prepared to enter your name, date of birth, Driver’s license or ID number, and address. If your data matches your on-file record, your registration is complete; if not, then you must register by mail. The online registration deadline is October 14, 2020 for the Nov. 3 election.
  • If registering by mail, fill out the form found here, and then print, sign, and mail/deliver it to your municipal clerk’s office. You must provide an acceptable Proof of Residence document from the list here. The online registration deadline is October 14, 2020 for the Nov. 3 election.
  • If registering in-person, please visit your municipal clerk’s office up to and until the Friday before the election at 5:00pm (October 30, 2020). Please bring your Proof of Residence with you.
  • If registering at the polls on Election Day, please visit a polling location and bring your Proof of Residence with you.

Not sure if you’re registered? Check here to verify your registration.

Voting

By Mail-in/Absentee Ballot

Any registered voter in Wisconsin may request to vote by mail.  You may register for an absentee ballot online, by mail, or in person at your municipal clerk’s office. 

  • To submit an online request, enter your information on MyVote Wisconsin’s website and follow the instructions. 
  • To mail your request, complete and send this form to your municipal clerk
    • Online and mailed requests for absentee ballots must be received by the clerk by 5:00pm the Thursday before the election (October 29, 2020). Election clerks suggest submitting absentee ballot requests as soon as possible to avoid missing the deadline.
  • You may also request an absentee ballot by visiting your municipal clerk’s office in person. If following this route, you must bring an acceptable photo ID with you. You will both request an absentee ballot and then complete that ballot immediately while at the clerk’s office. Contact your municipal clerk to find out their hours for in-person absentee voting.

If you registered for an absentee ballot online or by mail, you must deliver or mail your completed ballot to your clerk’s office by 8pm on Election Day (November 3). If mailing your ballot, make sure to postmark it with enough time for it to reach the office by November 3rd.

If you vote by absentee ballot, you must complete your ballot in the presence of an adult witness.  Your witness must be an American citizen at least 18 years of age and they must sign a certificate and provide their address. (If you are in the military or are currently overseas, the American citizen requirement for your witness is waived). 

Remember, your ballot will not be counted without the signature of the voter, the signature of the witness and the address of the witness.

In-Person Early Voting

Wisconsin allows in-person early voting at selected locations from up to two weeks before Election Day and ending the Sunday before Election Day. (October 20-November 1, 2020). Please contact your municipal clerk’s office to find out about available early voting locations in your area. Residents of Milwaukee and Madison may also find alternate early voting locations.

In-Person on Election Day

Click here to check your polling place and hours of operation.  Read this guide for more information on what to expect from in-person voting.  Make sure to bring an acceptable form of photo ID to the polls. If you forget to bring your photo ID, you may still vote by provisional ballot but you must return to the polling place and show your photo ID by 8:00pm on Election Day; otherwise, your ballot will not be counted.

4. FLORIDA

Florida counties map

Registering to Vote

You may register to vote online, by mail, or in-person.

  • If registering online, please visit https://registertovoteflorida.gov/home and follow the instructions.
  • If registering by mail, complete this form and deliver or mail it to any of the addresses listed on page 2 of the form. (Registration form available in Spanish here).
  • You may also be able to register to vote while renewing your driver’s license, visiting a tax collecting agency or other public offices. More details can be found here.

The deadline for voter registration is 29 days before the election (October 5, 2020). All new voter applicants must provide a current Florida driver’s license number, Florida ID number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you do not have any of these numbers, you will be asked to supply a copy of an ID that shows your name and photo or your name and current address.  Further details are available on page 1 of the application form.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote? Check here.

Voting

By Mail-in/Absentee Ballot

Any registered voter in Florida may request to vote by mail. Please contact your local Supervisor of Elections by mail, email, fax, phone, in-person, or online application to request an absentee ballot. Only the voter or designated member of their immediate family may request an absentee ballot. During your request, you must provide your name address, date of birth, and signature (written requests only). If requesting a ballot for an immediate family member, please provide the same information for the voter as well as the requester’s name, address, driver’s license number, relationship to voter, and signature (written requests only). 

The deadline for the Supervisor of Elections to receive an absentee ballot request is at 5:00pm, 10 days before the election (October 24, 2020). More details are available here

You or a designated friend or relative can pick up your absentee ballot once it becomes available but no earlier than nine days before Election Day (October 25, 2020). A designee can pick up no more than two ballots for other voters (not including their own ballot and the ballots for immediate family members). The designee must also submit an affidavit to pick-up the voter’s blank ballot. 

Make sure to follow the absentee ballot instructions very carefully. Your signature on your ballot must match your signature on file with the state government, otherwise your ballot may not be counted.

Your completed absentee ballot must be mailed or hand delivered to the Supervisor of Elections office no later than 7:00pm on Election Day. The postal service recommends mailing your ballot a week before Election Day to ensure its prompt arrival. You may also submit your absentee ballot to one of the secure drop boxes placed at your Supervisor of Elections offices or early voting sites.  Please check this website to find the location of the secure drop boxes.

See Also
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If you register for an absentee ballot but then decide to vote in person, please bring your blank absentee ballot to your polling place on Election Day where it will be “cancelled” by polling place staff.

In-Person Early Voting

Florida allows in-person early voting at selected locations starting from around 10 days before the election and ending around three days before Election Day (October 24-31, 2020) although these dates may vary by location. The Supervisors of Elections will designate early voting sites no later than 30 days prior to an election. Check the Florida Division of Elections website for more updates on early voting.

In-Person on Election Day

Click here to check your polling place; all polling places will be open from 7:00am-7:00pm.   Make sure to bring an acceptable form of photo ID to the polls. If you forget to bring your photo ID, you may still vote by provisional ballot. As long as the signature on your provisional ballot matches the signature in the state record, your ballot will be counted.

5. ARIZONA

Arizona counties map

Registering to Vote

You may register to vote online or by mail. Please note that due to COVID-19, the state Election Division is suspending all in-person services meaning that for the 2020 election, you may not register to vote in-person. For more information, Visit My.Arizona.Vote or email Elections@azsos.gov

You must be registered to vote at least 29 days before the election (October 5, 2020).

  • To register online, you must have an Arizona Driver License and/or an Arizona non-operating I.D. card issued by the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD). Visit Service Arizona.com and follow the instructions. 
  • To register by mail, print and fill out this online form, or contact your County Election Official and ask that they mail you a copy. Mail your completed form back to your County Election Official.

After your registration, you should receive a voter registration card in the mail within 4-6 weeks. Not sure if you’re registered? Check here.

Voting

By Mail-in/Absentee Ballot

Any registered voter in Florida may request to vote by mail.  You may:

  1. Join the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) whereby you will be automatically sent a ballot-by-mail for every future election in which you are eligible to vote.
  2. Or you may make a one-time request for a mail-in ballot.
PEVL
  • To sign up for the PEVL online, please log into ServiceArizona.com and indicate your preferences for permanent mail-in ballots.  Residents of Maricopa County should use the Maricopa County PEVL Sign-Up Website (link is external) to register online.
  • OR, you may submit a written request to join the PEVL. Print and complete this form and then mail, fax, or email a scanned copy or photo to your County Recorder’s Office.  According to the Arizona state website, “If you do not have a printer, write out the required information from the request form, sign the document that you wrote, then mail, fax, or email a scanned copy or photo of your handwritten request to your County Recorder’s Office.”

Your PEVL request must be received by the County Recorder’s Office 11 days before the next election (October 23, 2020 at 5:00pm).

One-time request
  • To make a one-time mail-in ballot request online, please visit this website and make your request.
  • OR you may call your County Recorder to make the request.  Please be prepared to supply your name, date of birth, address, and other identifying information.
  • OR, you may submit a written request for a one-time mail-in ballot. Please print and complete this form, Print and complete this form and then mail, fax, or email a scanned copy or photo to your County Recorder’s Office.  Again, according to the Arizona state website, “If you do not have a printer, write out the required information from the request form, sign the document that you wrote, then mail, fax, or email a scanned copy or photo of your handwritten request to your County Recorder’s Office.”
  • OR you may email your County Recorder with your:
  • First and Last Name, Date of Birth, Address, Mailing Address (if different from Residence Address)
  • State or Country of Birth, or another piece of information that, if compared to your voter record, would confirm your identity (e.g. Arizona Driver’s License #, last 4 digits of Social Security number, father’s name, or mother’s maiden name)
  • Primary Election Ballot Choice (if registered as No Party Designated/Independent)
    • Voters registered with no political party must choose which ballot they would like for the Primary Election: Republican, Democrat, Green (only available for Pima County voters) or Nonpartisan (only includes nonpartisan, municipal races in cities/towns holding elections on August 4, 2020)
  • Write the following message: “I am requesting a ballot-by-mail for the 2020 Primary and General Elections and am giving the County Recorder permission to mail my ballot to the address provided in this email.”

Your one-time mail-in ballot request must be received by the County Recorder’s Office 11 days before the next election (October 23, 2020 at 5:00pm).

To submit your mail-in ballot, you may:

  • Mail your ballot, using the pre-paid envelope included in your ballot-by-mail package. The state recommends mailing the ballot to your County Recorder’s Office no later than six days before the election, (October 28, 2020).
  • Drop off your ballot: You may submit your ballot at any ballot drop-box, drop-off location, early voting location, or Election Day voting location in your county on or before Election Day. Find all voting and drop off locations on your county’s website

All mail-in ballots must be received by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day (November 3, 2020).

In-Person Early Voting

According to Arizona’s state website, “Each county has different in-person early voting options starting 27-days before Election Day [October 7, 2020] up through 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day [October 30, 2020]. Visit your County Recorder’s website or contact your County Recorder directly to learn more about in-person early voting options in your county.” 

Remember to bring your appropriate ID when in-person early voting. 

In-Person on Election Day

Locate your assigned polling location through the Voter Information Portal. If you cannot locate your polling place, please contact your County Recorder. Please note that certain Arizona counties use vote centers, which are polling locations open on Election Day to any eligible voter in that county.

Arizona polling locations are generally open from 6:00am-7:00pm local time on Election Day, although hours may vary for specific locations.

Arizona requires voters to show certain forms of ID when voting.  Please review the state’s guidelines for acceptable ID before visiting your polling location.  If you visit your polling location without sufficient ID, you will be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot, but your ballot will only be counted IF you return and provide valid ID to your polling location before 7:00 pm on Election Day or if you present valid ID to your County Recorder’s Office by 5:00 p.m. on the 5th business day after a federal election (November 10, 2020), or by 5:00 p.m. on the 3rd business day after any other election.

If you have any other questions about voting, please contact your local election officials or visit your state government website. Remember to register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, and/or submit your ballot as early as possible to guarantee your vote is counted in the general election!

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