Staff Editorial: The least you can do: Here’s how to vote in this fall’s general election

Normally, the Student Life Editorial Board would run a staff editorial about voting during the last week of October, just before Election Day. This year, though, voting is different. The pandemic—along with various efforts to suppress voter turnout—has made voting incredibly complicated this fall, despite the need to exercise our right to vote being as clear as ever. So here we are now, a full 26 days before Nov. 3, to explain how to vote in this year’s general election.

Since many Washington University students are Missouri voters, we have chosen to focus on this state’s voting process. Other states have different processes and restrictions, so if you choose to vote elsewhere, be sure to get specific information about how that particular state handles the voting process. The website howto.vote can connect you to the information you need if you cast your vote outside of Missouri.

Option 1a: Absentee voting by mail

If you are not going to be in Missouri on Election Day but still have a Missouri address or if you meet other criteria, such as working at the polls on Election Day or caring for someone who is sick, you can vote absentee. Absentee voting was already an option for some Missouri voters prior to the pandemic, but the state added two additional reasons to vote absentee this year: incapacity due to illness or being part of a high-risk group for COVID-19. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you do not need to provide proof that you are in a high-risk group.

The first way you can vote absentee is completely contactless. You can fill out the absentee ballot request form and then email or mail it to your local Board of Elections. That request form is due by Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 5 p.m., so make sure to fill it out as soon as possible to guarantee that it’s received on time, especially if you’re sending it in via mail. The Board of Elections will then mail you a ballot, which you will have to fill out, get notarized and return by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (either by mail or by dropping it off at the Board of Elections). That is a lot of steps, so be sure to start this process as soon as possible to ensure your ballot gets counted.

If you fall into one of the two new categories, you do not need to have your ballot notarized. For other reasons to vote absentee, the Gephardt Institute has developed a list of notaries on and near campus to help you notarize your ballot in a timely manner.

Here, we’ve listed some more information regarding voting absentee in St. Louis County and St. Louis City, respectively. If you are not sure where you are registered to vote, click here to check your registration.

Option 1b: Absentee voting in person

If you meet one of the state’s criteria, you can also vote absentee before Election Day by going to your local Board of Elections and filling out an absentee application. You will receive your ballot on the spot and be able to cast it while you’re at the Board of Elections. In order to vote absentee in person, you have to go to the local Board of Elections by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. This option does not require you to go to a notary, since that will be taken care of at the Board of Elections, but you still need some form of identification.

Option 2: Mail-in voting

If you will be in Missouri on Election Day and do not meet the other criteria to qualify for absentee voting, you still have other options beyond voting in person. To respond to the pandemic, the state introduced universal mail-in voting this year.

The process is very similar to absentee voting, but you do not need to have a specified reason in order to vote by mail.

To start, you must mail the ballot request form to your local Board of Elections or go in person to apply for the form (unfortunately, email is not an option). Again, the deadline to have your request submitted is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21. If you’re mailing in the request form, be sure to account for the time it will take for it to be processed and delivered through the mail.

They will then send you a ballot, which you must fill out, notarize and return by mail no later than 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Just as with the absentee voting process, there are lots of steps, so start now!

Option 3: In-person voting on election day

If neither of those options work for you, you can still vote in person on Nov. 3. You can look up your polling place location at the Missouri Secretary of State’s website, which also provides a list of acceptable forms of identification that you’ll be required to have with you on voting day.

Things to remember

  • Follow all of the instructions on the ballot request form and on the ballot itself, including signing all of the correct places. Do not give election officials a reason to disqualify your ballot by filling out the wrong parts of the form or forgetting to sign the envelope.
  • If you’re voting absentee or with a mail-in ballot, start as soon as you can! The deadline to have your ballot request submitted is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, but don’t wait until the last minute, as the mail moves slowly and your request may not get there in time.
  • Be sure to bring with you an acceptable form of identification when voting in person or dropping off your absentee ballot.
  • Just because polls show a wide margin in the national election does not mean that your vote is meaningless: State and local elections are very important and are often much closer than the national votes, especially in states like Missouri.

Additional Resources

On its own, voting is not nearly sufficient. America’s problems run much deeper than the failures of any single current politician. But voting is a start, and a necessary one. Electing better leaders will not solve the many issues we face, but it will open the door to progress.

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