A guide to voting in the 2020 General Election

Xenia Kobori and Jessica Isser

Official mail-in ballots delivered to a home in Cranford (Photo by Shawn McDonald )

The right to vote has been a fundamental principle of American democracy since the founding fathers first drafted the Constitution in 1787. For the past two centuries, it has been a rite of passage for Americans to vote and use their voices to evoke change in the U.S. However, COVID-19 has made voting in the 2020 General Election unlike anything Americans have ever experienced. 

Here is everything you need to know to navigate Election Day and cast your ballot on Nov. 3.

Voting registration 

Before you can vote, you need to be a registered voter in the state of New Jersey by October 13. This year, voter registration is available online through the Official Site of the State of New Jersey. 

For those who would rather register to vote by mail, you can fill out a voter registration form and mail it to the Union County Commissioner of Registration. The form can be found on the same website used to register online and is available in English and Spanish.

Click here to visit the website and get your registration in before the deadline. 

Once you register to vote, you’re one step closer to casting your ballot.

Vote by mail

Every household with a registered voter has either already received or will receive a mail-in ballot in the upcoming weeks. The Union County Board of Elections has been sending out ballots to towns alphabetically. The board sent out Summit’s ballots this past week. 

Once you have received your ballot, you have a variety of options as to how to cast your vote. One option is to fill out the ballot and mail it back to the Union County Board of Elections through the post office. The ballot needs to have a postmark from either before or on election day in order to be counted. 

There is also the option of dropping your completed ballot at one of the 22 dropbox locations in Union Country before 8:00 p.m. on Nov. 3. The closest location is the Colleen Fraser Building, 300 North Avenue East, Westfield, NJ. The dropbox locations are under 24-hour surveillance and each morning the ballots are brought to the Union County Board of Elections by bi-partisan individuals. This is a popular option for many registered voters in Westfield. WHS parent Stacy Hoffmann said she will be dropping off her ballot at the dropbox location in the coming weeks.

Voting in-person 

In New Jersey, there is no early voting. On Nov. 3, those who have decided to vote in-person can either bring their completed ballot to their designated polling site or fill out a provisional paper ballot that will be available on site. Only half of the polling sites in Westfield are open this year and which site you report to will be specified on the ballot you have received in the mail. Unlike previous elections, only people with severe disabilities will be allowed to vote by machine. 

For in-person voting, wearing a mask is highly encouraged and lines will be socially distanced according to the Union County Board of Elections.

First-time voters who registered to vote by mail or online should bring a form of ID to their polling site to cast their ballot in-person. 

Even without the use of voting machines and the threat of large crowds in indoor locations, many voters are still choosing to cast their votes in-person. “I am voting in person because of the controversy which has been created regarding mail-in ballots, which I think is a false controversy, and because I have historically always voted in person,” said WHS parent Serina Hamlin. 

For more information about your polling sites, click here

Counting the ballots 

Typically, votes aren’t counted until Election Day; however, because of the increase of mail-in ballots, commissioners can start counting ballots as early as ten days before Election Day. There are four commissioners, two Republicans and two Democrats, who count the ballots in Union County, and they are under strict surveillance throughout the process. People are not able to hear about any results until 8:00 p.m. on Nov. 3. 

While the state is taking precautions to ensure that everyone’s vote is counted correctly and there is no tampering with ballots, some fear that having the majority of votes be cast through the mail may lead to problems. According to bbc.com, President Trump said, “Mail-in ballots are very dangerous- there’s tremendous fraud involved.”

However, not everyone is worried about voter fraud. When asked if mail-in voting can lead to voter fraud, Hamlin said, “Can it? Yes. Does it? Historically no. My understanding, having been a federal prosecutor, is that historically, voter fraud is very small. We have institutions and laws in place to prosecute people who do it. It’s a federal crime.”

How to be active if you’re under 18

For those who are unable to vote in this election, there are numerous ways to stay involved, both civically and politically. The simplest way to stay politically engaged is to amplify issues that are important to you and stay knowledgeable about public policy and current events. 

WHS senior Amanda Wendler believes that if you can’t vote there are still many other ways to create change and stay active. “We can still have an impact on our candidates by emailing them, getting in contact with them and lobbying Congress,” said Wendler. “Voting is just one tiny piece of the full picture which is politics in America, so I think it’s naive to think that voting is the only way to express our beliefs.”

  In the 2016 presidential election, 100 million Americans did not vote. So if you’re interested in increasing voter turnout, you can get involved in local and countrywide voter drives. Similarly, you can canvass by encouraging those around you to use their voice and their vote. 

Another way to stay active is by registering to vote once you turn 17 since New Jersey allows early voter registration. While you cannot cast a vote until you’re 18, registering early ensures that once you’re 18 you’ll be able to get involved politically right away. 

Lastly, one way to stay involved politically is through social media. These days, there is a myriad of information shared through social media, from petitions to information about how to register to vote. WHS senior Olivia Ebel has used social media to share an initiative she created called Young Voters United. Young Voters United is a website that provides voting statistics, registration instructions, and reasons why it’s important to vote.

Ebel will be able to vote in this election and she recognizes the impact the younger generation can have on voting. She believes that “voting is really a privilege that we need to take advantage of. It’s your voice in government and it’s your say, it’s what you want to happen.”

To find out more about Olivia Ebel’s initiative visit youngvotersunited.org.  

How to be active if you’re 18 and over

Once you’re 18, the ways you can get politically involved multiply. If you strongly identify with one political party you can register to be part of said party, join a campaign and even volunteer at your party’s headquarters. You can also donate to a party or other organizations you believe in. 

If you’re 18 years or older and want to get directly involved in the election, you can volunteer to work at a polling location. To sign up, submit your application via the NJ government website. If you’re selected, you will attend a training class provided by the state. 

Perhaps most importantly is that once you’re able to vote, you do. With your vote you can support elected officials that you believe in, ultimately creating change in our country. 

To supplement the power of voting, it’s important to stay informed. You can follow a publication or subscribe to a newspaper. You can watch digital discussions and debates or simply listen to voices in your community. Continue to familiarize yourself with our nation’s history and share your knowledge with those around you. 

Due to COVID-19, the way our nation will vote in the 2020 General Election is unprecedented. Yet, while these changes may be foreign, the procedures allow for the American people to vote in a way they feel most comfortable. It’s important to adhere to the new guidelines and meet the deadlines to ensure that your vote is counted.