How to cast your ballot for the 2020 general election

Voting. All election officials agree: send your mail-in ballot as soon as possible. Whether you’re planning to mail your ballot or head to the polls on Election Day, the process is going to look a little different from previous general elections. Here’s a comprehensive guide on local voting options in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, and what to expect.

28 Aug 2020 | 12:43

Two main concerns are weighing heavily on voters this election season: the risk of contracting Covid-19 at the polls on election day, and whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to return mail-in ballots in time to be counted.

To ensure mail-in ballots are counted, the USPS recommends voters mail them at least 15 days prior to their due date.

In states like Pennsylvania, this is particularly important.

Pennsylvania’s deadline for requesting a mail in ballot is one week before Election Day — and in Pennsylvania, counties can’t count ballots received after Election Day. This means that those who wait until the deadline, or close to the deadline, to request an absentee ballot likely won’t have their votes counted.

To get locals up to speed with the various new voting options, Straus News reached out to local boards of elections to get details on the options available, what to expect, and important dates and deadlines.

Every election official agreed on one thing: if you’re planning to vote by mail, return your ballot as soon as possible. Do not wait until the deadline, even if your state, like New York and New Jersey, has extended the counting period.

No official said there was any downside to mail-in voting, as long as ballots are returned in a timely manner.

PENNSYLVANIA

In Pike County, Pa., voters have options: they can cast their votes in person on Election Day, or get a mail-in ballot that can either be dropped off at a drop box or mailed through the USPS.

We surveyed Pike County readers to see how they’re planning to vote this year: 54% are planning to do so in person on Election Day, 42% intend to use mail-in ballots, and 4% are still undecided.

Voting by mail

If Pennsylvania residents want to vote by mail, they must apply for a mail-in ballot. All mail-in ballots will come with a postage-paid return envelope, with the address pre-filled in.

In Pike County, mail-in and absentee ballots are counted using the same software used in person at the polls.

And while the state allows these ballots to be requested up until a week before the election, waiting that long is not recommended by election officials or the USPS. If a voter waits until the deadline to request a mail-in ballot, their vote won’t be returned and counted in time.

Residents who apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot cannot vote at the polls on Election Day. Voters who do not return their mail-in or absentee ballot, and who go to the polls on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot.

“If people wait until the deadline, chances are they are not going to be able to have their ballot sent to them, voted, and returned to us through the mail,” said Nadeen Manzoni, Pike County’s director of elections and voter registration. “It is just too tight of a time frame. If they wait until the deadline and they want their ballot counted, they’ll have to hand-deliver it or use to drop box to make sure it is returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.”

Mail-in ballots are expected to be sent to voters in mid-to-late September, said Manzoni. Her office is encouraging those who are voting by mail to send their completed ballots back as soon as possible.

Ballots are locked securely in the administration building until they begin to be counted at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

The mail-in ballot counting process is open to the public and will also be live-streamed online, so anyone can tune in and watch the ballots be canvassed and scanned from the commissioner’s meeting room in the Pike County Administration building. Computation boards made up of county employees from various offices volunteer to count the ballots, and politicians from Republican and Democratic parties, along with local political organizations, are invited to be observers. Anyone can apply for a watchers certificate to observe the process.

“It is very safe and secure,” said Manzoni.

Voting by drop box

Pike County residents who wish to bypass the USPS can hand-deliver ballots to the Board of Elections office, or place them in the drop box in the Pike County Administration building lobby at 506 Broad Street in Milford.

The Pike County Sheriff’s office oversees the drop box, which it is under supervision of a deputy. The drop box can only be used during office hours.

There are no plans for any additional drop boxes.

Voting in person

Pike County is planning for all polling locations to be open as usual. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Everyone in line to vote prior to 8 p.m. will be permitted to cast their ballots.

Poll locations will be limiting the number of people allowed inside to accommodate social distancing.

“People should be prepared to wait outside,” said Manzoni. “It’s early November, so it’s going to be cold.”

The county is asking those voting in person to wear masks. Sneeze guards are in place at sign-in and ballot distribution stations, and hand sanitizer will be available. Poll workers will be cleaning and sanitizing voting booths. Voters are encouraged to use their own pens, but there will also be single use pens available.

How to apply for a mail-in ballot:

● Online at VotesPa.com

● In person at the Pike County Election Office, 506 Broad St., Milford

● By calling the Pike County Elections Office and requesting a paper application to be mailed to you: 570-296-3427

Important dates and deadlines:

● The last day to register to vote online, in person, or by postmarked by mail: Oct. 19

● Date mail in ballots must be received by county board of elections in order to be counted: Nov. 3

● Election Day: Nov. 3

NEW YORK

In Orange County, N.Y., voters have a number of options: vote by mail via absentee ballot, vote in person at the polls on Election Day, or vote in-person during early voting.

Ballots cast in person during early voting or on Election Day are processed immediately and included in the results on election night. Absentee ballots will be counted afterwards.

Different machines are used to count in-person votes and absentee votes, but both are audited. The board of elections ensures that both systems are equally secure.

If someone requests an absentee ballot but shows up to their polling place during early voting or on Election Day, they will be able to vote in person. There is a system in place that voids any submitted absentee ballots when someone opts to vote in person instead. The vote submitted in person is the one that is ultimately counted, and the absentee ballot does not get opened or counted.

We surveyed our Orange County readers to see how they’re planning to cast their ballots this year: 64% plan to vote in person on Election Day, 17% plan to vote by mail (via absentee ballot), 15% intend to vote in person during early voting, and 4% are undecided.

Voting in person

As of right now, all Orange County polling locations are expected to be open. A list of polling locations will be posted on orangecountygov.com when it is finalized.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day. If there is a line at closing time, anyone in line prior to 9 p.m. will be permitted to vote.

Polling locations are following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Hand sanitizer, PPE, and masks will be available. Sneeze guards will be set up, and booths and pens will be cleaned throughout the day. Coordinators will be monitoring lines to ensure social distancing and flow.

Voting by absentee ballot

In New York, any registered voters can now request an absentee ballot due to to the risk or fear of illness. They can be requested by emailing (elections@orangecountygov.com), calling (845-360-6500), or faxing (845-291-2437) the Orange County Board of Elections office, or by visiting the office in person (75 Webster Avenue, Goshen). Applications may also be printed out online from orangecountygov.com and mailed or delivered in person to the board of elections office.

Return envelopes for absentee ballots will not be prepaid. The envelopes will already have the correct address filled out.

“If you’re voting by mail, get your ballot back to us as soon as possible,” said Orange County’s Democratic election commissioner, Louise Vandemark. “Don’t wait.”

“Don’t wait, don’t hesitate,” added the Republican election commissioner, Courtney Canfield.

Those voting by absentee ballot may bypass the USPS by dropping off their ballots at any of the seven poll locations open during early voting. Ballots can also be dropped off at the board of elections office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or handed to a poll worker on Election Day.

The board of elections is expecting ballots to be mailed around the first week of October.

Unlike in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there currently is not a way for New York voters to track their absentee ballots.

All absentee ballots are stored in a locked ballot room throughout the process. They are counted after Election Day, according to Vandemark and Canfield. A specific date for counting hasn’t been set at this time.

A canvassed, bipartisan team, of a Democrat and a Republican, review and count the ballots. Candidates and party chairs are allowed to observe the process as well.

Early voting

Voters can cast their ballots in person, or or drop off their absentee ballots in person, during early voting, from Oct. 24 through Nov. 1. Any Orange County resident may vote at any of the designated early voting locations.

Early voting hours in Orange County:

● Saturday, Oct. 24: 12 p.m.- 5 p.m.

● Sunday, Oct. 25: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

● Monday, Oct. 26: 12 p.m.-8 p.m.

● Tuesday, Oct. 27: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

● Wednesday, Oct. 28: 12 p.m.-8 p.m.

● Thursday, Oct. 29: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

● Friday, Oct. 30: 12 p.m.-8 p.m.

● Saturday, Oct. 31: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

● Sunday, Nov. 1: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Locations for early voting or absentee ballot drop-off:

Any Orange County resident may vote early or drop off their absentee ballots at any of the following locations:

● City of Newburgh Activity Center: 401 Washington St. Newburgh

● Cornwall Ambulance Building: 1 Clinton St. Cornwall

● Warwick Town Hall: 132 Kings Highway. Warwick

● Middletown Senior Center (Mulberry House): 62-70 West Main St., Middletown

● Village of Montgomery Senior Center: 36 Bridge St. Montgomery

● Delaware Engine Co. #2: 22 Hammond St. Port Jervis

● Monroe Town Hall: 1465 Orange Turnpike. Monroe

Important dates and deadlines:

● The last day to register to vote online, in person, or by postmarked by mail: Oct. 9

● Last day to postmark an absentee ballot application by mail or apply for an absentee ballot online, by email, fax: Oct. 27

● Last day to apply for an absentee ballot in person: Nov. 2

● Last day to postmark an absentee ballot to be counted: Nov. 3

● Absentee ballots must be received by your local board of elections by: Nov. 10

● Last day to deliver absentee ballot in person to the local board of elections or polling place: Nov. 3

● Election Day: Nov. 3

NEW JERSEY

For the general election, every New Jersey resident will be sent a mail-in ballot. These may be returned either via the USPS, handed in on Election Day to a poll worker, or submitted via a local drop box.

Voting by mail

Ballots are expected to be mailed by Oct. 4.

Mail-in ballots will come with a prepaid, first class return envelope, with the address of the local board of elections already filled in.

Voters can track their mail-in ballots online. Visit nj.gov to set up an account.

They can also call their county election officials to track their ballots.

“Considering the pandemic, I would encourage voters to vote their ballot and either put it in a drop box or deliver it to my office, rather than go to the polls -- that is an option, if all else fails,” said Sussex County Board of Elections Administrator Marge McCabe. “I know some people are reluctant to use the postal service, but we’ve certainly given enough options other than that to give voters confidence that their ballot will be secure.”

Voting in person

Poll workers will be accepting mail-in ballots in person at polling locations on Election Day. When dropping off ballots in person, voters will be allowed to bring only their own ballots. They cannot bring family members’ ballots to the polling place.

Poll locations will be set up with social distancing in mind. They will supply voters with PPE, hand sanitizer, and single-use pens.

A limited number of polling locations will be open. It is important to note that voters’ polling places are unlikely to be their typical locations due to the limited number of sites that will be open.

Counties have yet to decide which sites will be open on Election Day. Check with your local board of elections in coming weeks.

There will be one voting machine at each polling place to accommodate people with disabilities, who will be required to fill out a disability form attesting that they are unable to complete a paper ballot. All others will be given a provisional ballot if they show up to vote in person at the polls on Election Day.

Voting by drop box

To bypass mail-in ballots via the USPS, New Jersey voters may contactlessly drop off them off at an official ballot drop box.

The boxes are similar to USPS collection boxes, with a small hole that prohibits people from reaching in and taking anything out of them. The boxes are bolted into concrete.

Voters have until Election Day to submit their ballots by drop box. The drop boxes will be locked at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

In Sussex County, five drop boxes are currently available. The county plans to add six boxes to serve residents who do not live close to the ones already in place. Workers of different political parties will collect the ballots from drop boxes daily and return them to the board of elections to be stored securely until they are counted.

A team of poll workers supervised by Sussex County’s four election commissioners will be counting the mail-in ballots. Challengers are also welcome to observe the process. Most ballots will be counted on Election Day. They will continue to be received, processed, and counted after Election Day.

Passaic County currently has five drop boxes in place. The county plans to add eight additional boxes. An officer from the Passaic County prosecutor's office and an officer from the sheriff’s office empty ballot boxes together daily. Ballots are brought back and secured at the board of elections. Elections commissioners, alongside a canvassed office team, count and process the ballots.

Sussex County drop box locations:

● Newton Municipal Building: 39 Trinity St. Newton, N.J. 07860

● Hardyston Municipal Building: 149 Wheatsworth Rd. Hardyston, N.J. 07419

● Hopatcong Municipal Building: 111 River Styx Rd .Hopatcong, N.J. 07843

● Vernon Municipal Building: 21 Church Street Vernon, N.J. 07462

● Sparta Municipal Building: 65 Main Street Sparta 07871

Six additional drop boxes will be added to locations not yet determined.

Passaic County drop box locations:

● Clifton Municipal Building: 900 Clifton Avenue, Clifton

● Passaic Municipal Building: 330 Passaic St., Passaic

● County of Passaic Administration Building: Corner of Clark Street and Degrasse Street, Paterson

● Ringwood Municipal Building: 60 Margaret King Ave. Ringwood

● Wayne Municipal Building: 475 Valley Road, Wayne

Eight additional drop boxes will be added to locations not yet determined.

Important dates and deadlines:

● Last day to register to vote in person or to postmark your mailed-in registration: Oct. 13

● Last day to postmark your mail-in ballot: Nov. 3

● Last day to drop your ballot in a drop box: Nov. 3, before 8 p.m.

● Date your ballot must be received by the board of elections: Nov. 10

● Election Day: Nov. 3