Make your voices heard: Get out the vote

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020, and this year our election will look much different than in the past. Unfortunately, voting safely is no longer as easy as making your way to your neighborhood polling place. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the voting process—especially for those who are at increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19—but we at the American Kidney Fund want to provide you with resources and information to help you and your loved ones vote safely and effectively this fall. That is why we are unveiling our new Get Out the Vote webpage!

Why should you vote?

Voting is an important part of our civic duty as members of society, and it can also have a large impact on programs and issues that directly affect kidney patients. While the presidential race always gets the most attention, the smaller down-ticket races for your state and local officials can matter just as much—or even more. Elections can influence issues ranging from the accessibility and affordability of your health care, to the future of Medicare and funding for kidney disease research, to removing obstacles to living kidney donation, and addressing widespread health disparities.

It may sometimes feel like your one vote will not make much of a difference, but many elections are decided by a relatively small number of votes, especially at the state and local levels. Your state and local officials need your votes as much as the presidential candidates do, and your vote matters to them. In the last 20 years, more than a dozen races have been decided by a single vote or have ended in a tie, and many more have been decided by less than 1% of the vote!

Requesting a mail-in ballot

During the pandemic, it is very important that people with kidney disease and other chronic illnesses take special precautions to keep safe and healthy while voting. While these options can vary depending on your state, most states allow mail-in or absentee voting.

Make sure that you are registered to vote as soon as possible and sign up to receive an absentee or mail-in ballot if this is an option you wish to use. Even if you think you are already registered, it is still important to check your voter registration to make sure all of your information is current and you are listed as a registered voter. Double check your address since that is where your mail-in ballot will be sent, especially if you have moved since the last election.

Find out state-specific information about registering to vote and requesting a mail-in ballot here.

Make sure your vote counts

If you are voting by mail, here are some ways you can ensure that your vote is counted correctly:

  • Closely read all instructions on the ballot you receive and make sure you complete all steps. Your vote may not be counted if all the instructions are not followed! Many mail-in ballots will have a place to sign a declaration, and you need to make sure you sign that before you mail it in. Also, make sure the envelope(s) provided are sealed as directed.
  • Some states require special information to vote, such as your Social Security number or driver’s license number. Make sure to provide all the information requested.
  • 12 states, including Louisiana, North Carolina and Mississippi, require another person to sign your ballot envelope as a witness. Some states have temporarily lifted this requirement due to COVID-19. The safest option is to have your ballot signed by someone who lives with you. To safely have your ballot signed by a witness who does not live with you, stay six feet away from the person at all times. Sign your ballot within their view, then step away from your ballot and have your witness sign the form. After they have moved six feet away, you can take your ballot back. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • In some states, mail-in ballots will have pre-paid postage, meaning you do not need to add a stamp for mailing. If your state does not provide pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots, you must add a stamp in order for your envelope to make its way back to your state’s board of elections.
  • Check the guidelines for your state to ensure that you are mailing your ballot before the deadline. States have different deadlines for mail-in ballots. Due to the very large number of mail-in ballots expected this election, mail in your ballot as early as possible, despite the deadline, to ensure it is received and processed well before Election Day! If you are able, fill out your ballot the day you receive it and mail it back the following day.
  • You may also be able to drop off your ballot at your local elections office, ballot drop box locations, early voting locations and/or polling locations. Check with your state’s board of elections to find out what drop-off services are available.
  • Some states are offering the ability to track your ballot, so you can see when it has been sent to you and when the returned ballot is received by your state’s board of elections. Check your state’s board of elections website to see if this is an option.

Find out state-specific guidelines for mail-in ballots here.

Voting healthy

Whatever your process may look like during this unusual year, make sure you are taking the important precautions to keep yourself safe from COVID-19 while voting:

  • If you are returning a ballot at a drop box, mailbox or other physical location, you should be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol afterwards if soap and water are not immediately available.
  • If you are dropping off your ballot at a physical location or are walking to a public mailbox to mail it back, wear a mask to protect yourself and others and practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others.
  • If you need to buy stamps for your mail-in ballot, which can vary by state, the safest way to do so is to order from the USPS Online Store and have them mailed to you. If you must buy stamps at the post office, grocery store or another physical location, wear a mask and be sure to wash or sanitize your hands afterwards.
  • If you cannot vote by mail, the next safest option is in-person early voting if it is available in your state or county. Early voting is staggered across a longer period of time, meaning it will be less crowded than in-person voting on Election Day. Check your state board of elections website for early voting dates and times.
  • If you must vote in person, either early or on Election Day, voting centers are usually the least busy mid-morning or early afternoon. To keep yourself safe and maintain physical distance from others, consider scheduling your vote around those times.
  • If voting in person, always wear a mask that covers both your nose and mouth and maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others. Once you have cast your vote, wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available.
  • If filling out a mail-in ballot by hand may be difficult for you, you can find a list of accessible voting options here that will allow you to vote safely.

Voting requirements differ from state to state; we recommend that you look up your state’s specific list of healthy voting recommendations at Healthy Voting.

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About the Author

Kate Tremont

Kate Tremont is associate director of government affairs at the American Kidney Fund.

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