We’re a week away from the last day you can vote in the United States. People are researching candidates. They’ve watched the debates (or opted out). Now, they’re mailing in ballots and lining up at polling places to exercise their constitutional right. Voters are incredibly invested in the outcome of this election.
For weeks, people have discussed voting plans, and now they’re following through. “Between travel time, traffic time, having to pick up your children from school or activities, and voting, your day can get unraveled very quickly, particularly if you don’t have a plan,” Glynda C. Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, a political action committee dedicated to electing Black women at federal and state levels and mobilizing Black women to cast their vote, tells SELF.
But as folks line up and vote during a pandemic or vote by mail, it’s important to state the obvious: In many ways, your voting plan is a wellness plan, too. Not only are you voting for or against candidates who could have huge positive or negative impacts on your health, but it’s also really important to take care of yourself during what can be a draining, confusing process. Whether you head out to vote IRL or by mail, there are things you can consider that will help you vote as safely, comfortably, and effectively as possible.
1. Make sure you’re registered to vote.
Even if you’re pretty sure you’re registered, double-check before you hit the polls. It’s better to know earlier rather than later if you’re actually not registered. If you get to the polls and someone says you aren’t registered (and you think you are), please know that under federal law, specifically the Help Americans Vote Act, you are allowed to fill out a provisional ballot (although each state handles them differently), the National Conference of State Legislatures explains.
If you know you haven’t registered to vote yet, you might still have a chance to vote in this election. Many voter registration deadlines have passed, but several states (like California, Maryland, and Idaho) allow you to register on Election Day. To figure out if you’re in one of those states, check out the United States Election Assistance Commission website, Vote.gov.
2. Locate your polling place or ballot box.
Typically, you’ll get mail from your local board of elections about your designated polling place. But if you haven’t received that information, you can check Can I Vote, a website that connects you to state election board websites. Even if you know you are registered, early voting sites might be different from your Election Day polling place, so figure out exactly where to go (and when to be there) beforehand.
If you’ve signed up to vote by mail, you might be able to find a nearby ballot box where you can drop off your ballot instead of mailing it. You can find more information on secure ballot boxes at your state’s board of election website.
3. Gather any documentation you need to vote in-person.
Some states require that you bring identification with you, so make sure you have that handy. You can check here to see if your state requires it.
4. Research your down-ballot candidates.
This is a relatively polarizing presidential election, and it seems that most people know how they’ll vote in that specific race. But what about state and local candidates? Not only is it useful to do a little digging on your options, but knowing who you’re voting for before Election Day has other benefits. “Already knowing your ballot cuts down on the amount of time [you spend voting] once you get into your poll site,” Carr explains. Pro-tip: Write down the names of the folks you’re voting for, so you don’t forget when you’re in the booth. You’re allowed to bring notes into your voting booth with you, according to USA.gov.
5. If you’re voting by mail, commit those deadlines to memory.
A ballot is only useful if you cast it, and setting it somewhere like your kitchen counter and forgetting about it is very common, Carr explains. Deadlines vary by state, but they should be prominently printed on the instructions that came with your voting forms and envelopes. “If you have your absentee ballot sitting on your desk, or your bed, or your nightstand and you’re reading this, it’s time to fill that out and make a determination if you’re going to put it in the mail or—if your state allows—drop it off somewhere,” Carr says.
6. And follow the instructions when filling out your ballot.
As mentioned above, most mail-in ballots come with instructions. Yes, it’s tempting to gloss over them, but make sure you read the directions carefully. Fill in your ballot clearly using only the ink color your directions allow, and sign your name with the correct date (a number of states match the signature on your ballot with a signature on file). You also want to vote on a clean flat surface (away from wine glasses and spaghetti sauce). Voting correctly (and mailing it on time) will ensure that your voice counts.
7. Make sure you can access your polling place.
If you have a disability, the United States Election Assistance Commission suggests you contact your local elections board to ensure that your polling place has accessible transportation, parking, voting machines, and interpreters. If they don’t have the things you need, knowing can help you troubleshoot any challenges ahead of time.
While waiting to vote, you are also entitled to additional accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), like available chairs should you need one, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Further, you have a federally-protected right to vote privately and individually (and depending on the state and your disability, you can have someone accompany you).
8. Plan around your work schedule and other obligations if necessary.
As of right now, there is no federal law that grants would-be voters time away from work, but some states require that employers make accommodations (such as giving employees a few hours if they provide proper documentation). There’s a larger discussion to be had about why Election Day isn’t a national holiday (and it exists against other issues that make voting inconvenient and inaccessible).
Not everyone can take a few hours off from work, so finding an ideal time (either on November 3 or earlier) is important. Even if your job isn’t your main concern, plan to vote based on your other obligations. In some states, election sites open as early as 6 A.M. and close as late as 9 P.M. Additionally, many polling sites allow voters who were in line by closing time to stay until they can cast their ballot.
9. If you’re voting in person, figure out your transportation plan.
It’s one thing to know your polling place, but how you’ll get there is an entirely different question. If someone in your household drives, can you travel together? Additionally, ride-share apps are offering discount codes so that you can get to and from your polling locations. Lyft is offering 50 percent off one ride (up to 10 dollars) to any polling place or ballot box using the code 2020VOTE. Uber is offering 50 percent off rides (up to 7 dollars one way, 14 dollars round trip) to and from polls, and they have an in-app poll-finding feature, but make sure you are heading to your designated polling place. If you decide to use a ride-sharing app, make sure you ride safely: Wear a mask (and only get in the car if your driver is wearing one), keep your windows down for maximum ventilation, and use hand sanitizer after. If you need to use public transportation, make sure you map your route in advance (and add extra travel time to account for delays).
10. If you have kids, think about your childcare options.
As SELF previously reported, states like Georgia have reported voting wait times up to 10 hours. So childcare for voting might be more complicated than it would be for running a quick errand. To help mitigate this, Care.com and the Armed Services YMCA are offering free childcare in 22 cities (though some of the sites are limited to military members). But suppose this isn’t an option (and changing diapers in a voting line seems less than ideal). In that case, it might be helpful to vote with friends or neighbors (while social distancing) so that you can all keep a collective eye on your brood or hold a place in line if someone needs to step away to soothe a cranky baby. “I’m hoping that our neighbors will be neighborly,” Carr says.
11. Consider bringing someone with you (even if you need to stand six feet apart).
Besides helping you watch your little ones, voting with other folks can help get more people out to vote. In places where voting feels a little scary or downright dangerous, voting in groups can provide some comfort and protection. Additionally, if you have to stand in line for hours, it’s probably ideal to have a buddy. Ideally, this is someone from your household (so that you don’t have to worry about social distancing), but if not—you can hang out with six feet between you.
12. Pack food, water, and any medication you may need.
Again, if voting IRL turns out to be an hours-long affair, you should think about what you’ll need to stay healthy and comfortable. That might include packing meals, snacks, and water. If you’ll be in a line (or in transit) when you normally take any medications, you should pack those as well.
13. Don’t forget your hand sanitizer and mask.
As SELF previously reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released election guidelines that include having poll workers wear masks, regular sanitizing protocols, and visual markers to help folks maintain social distancing. What can you do? Grab your mask and hand sanitizer (and use them both). Wherever possible, stand six feet away from folks who aren’t in your household. And if you’re squeamish about the voting booth, we have good news. It’s not necessary to stress out about touching paper and pens other people have touched since the coronavirus is much less likely to spread via inanimate objects. Still, you should use hand sanitizer and wash your hands before touching your face to make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent coronavirus transmission, SELF previously reported.
14. Plan your outfit around the weather.
If you’re standing around for hours, your outfit requires a little planning. We’d suggest comfortable shoes, warm socks if it’s cold where you are, and clothing layers that you can take off (and put on) as the weather changes. You might also bring sunscreen to protect your skin and an umbrella just in case the skies open up while you’re standing outside.
15. Have an emergency number handy for any voting issues.
If you run into unforeseen challenges or have questions about the voting process, you can call the Election Protection Hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE). It’s a hotline run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and volunteers can help you locate your polling place or provide assistance if you feel like your rights are being violated.
16. It’s okay to pack a few small comforts (like a portable chair).
Let’s be clear: If you have a disability that makes standing for long hours difficult, a chair isn’t a “small comfort.” It’s a necessity (and your polling site should provide one). But if that’s not your situation and it’s more that you just get grumpy when you stand in line for more than 10 minutes, a collapsible chair—like the Coleman Portable Camping Chair ($35, Amazon)—might be a worthwhile indulgence.
Similarly, a portable phone charger isn’t necessary, but if you’re waiting for hours, scrolling, texting, checking email, and live-tweeting is bound to drain your battery. Plus, you might want to have a fully-charged phone if you’re heading back home at night. Yes, people get by without portable phone chargers every single day, but if you’re interested, the GETIHU Portable Charger ($16, Amazon) is a solid option. If nothing else, it will make taking your “I VOTED” selfie a little easier.
17. Make sure you have an Election Day self-care plan.
Chances are if you’ve spent hours in line, your body will feel it (and your to-do list might suffer, too). That can range from feeling tired and chilly to having literal aches and pains. To that end, think through how you’ll care for yourself once you’ve cast your vote. Ideas can include having your heating pad ready to go and knowing in advance where you’ll order dinner since you might not feel like cooking, or it can include something luxurious like a bubble bath. Your self-care should also include ideas that will help you manage your Election Night expectations and any other anxieties that might crop up. We can help out with that right here.