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How to ensure a smooth Election 2020? Be informed and be patient

However you vote, you should be confident your ballot will be counted

Voters wait in line to deposit their ballots at the Loudoun County Office of Elections in Leesburg, Va., on Sept. 18.
Voters wait in line to deposit their ballots at the Loudoun County Office of Elections in Leesburg, Va., on Sept. 18. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the president and president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of States, as well as our states’ chief election official and members of different parties, we are calling on Americans to learn more about the election processes in their states and to have patience when waiting for final, certified election results. 

There are a few vital things to know to ensure a successful voting experience.

First, there is a chief election official in each state who oversees how the election is administered. While 40 secretaries of state across the country serve as their state’s chief election official, the other 10 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories are run by a board of elections or a similar structure. You can easily find your election official on NASS’s nonpartisan website, CanIVote.org. This site also has information on registering to vote, finding your polling place and more.

Second, if you plan on voting by mail, be sure to carefully follow all instructions provided by your election jurisdiction and send your mail ballot back as soon as possible so it will arrive on time. It is important to note, many state and local jurisdictions have mail ballot tracking functions online, and voters are encouraged to use these features to provide assurance on the whereabouts of their ballots.

Voters should also be aware that the timelines and methods for processing ballots vary by state. For instance, some states allow election officials to begin some form of processing mail ballots prior to Election Day, while others may have to wait until after the polls close on election night. Processing simply means officials are opening the envelopes, checking signatures to ensure they match what is on file, separating ballots from envelopes and in some cases scanning ballots. However, no state will release the results of mail ballot counting until after the polls close on election night.

Third, if you choose to cast a vote in person during early voting or on Election Day, you should follow safety protocols put in place, wear a face covering, practice social distancing and listen to poll workers’ instructions. These rules will vary by jurisdiction but are in place for the health and wellbeing of voters and election workers alike. Also, double check your polling place on CanIVote.org, as your usual location may have been consolidated or relocated due to COVID-19 or recent natural disasters.

Finally, the election night results you see on the news are always unofficial and often incomplete. With increased mail voting, paired with the number of states that cannot begin processing mail ballots until Election Day, it will likely take election officials in some states longer than usual to process and count ballots. Slower results should not be considered harmful to the democratic process, but instead shows the commitment state and local election officials have to counting all the votes and ensuring an accurate outcome.

After all votes have been tallied, the results will then need to be canvassed, or reviewed, and certified by relevant election officials. Again, each state will go about this differently because of their laws and procedures.

Be aware, this is a time when election misinformation and disinformation could be prevalent. So please be patient, and when you have questions about the process, turn to your state and local election officials for answers.

We hope this overview is helpful and ultimately increases public confidence in the process. As you weigh your voting options — by mail, in person, early voting or voting in person on Election Day — you should have no doubt your vote will be accurately counted and determine the outcome of the election, period.

If you have additional questions about elections and voting overall, NASS recently published a 2020 election FAQ document for voters, which covers a variety of topics, including how to check your voter registration status and becoming a poll worker.

As Americans we must unite in our efforts to safeguard the election in order for our democracy to successfully endure.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat serving as secretary of state of New Mexico, is the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Kyle Ardoin, a Republican serving as secretary of state of Louisiana, is the president-elect of NASS.

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