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In our first episode of As The South Votes, host Anoa Changa walks through the basics of vote by mail, availability of vote by mail in different states, early voting as an alternative, and the importance of having a vote plan ahead of the 2020 election.

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Check out the next video from As the South Votes, where Sailor Jones from Democracy North Carolina joins us to talk through a few issues with voting by mail in the state, including challenges for specially situated populations such as people in assisted living facilities.


Video transcript:
With less than 55 days to the general election voters want to know: How do I even pass my ballot? And will my vote count?

I'm digging into these questions and more on As the South Votes, an exploration into voting rights and voter suppression across the South. I'm also going to be talking with leading organizers about these issues and more. 

So that brings us to our first topic, vote by mail. Thanks to a tipster out of North Carolina who asked the question: Is vote by mail safe? 

In short, yes, despite what you may have heard in the news—or from a certain person's tweets—vote by mail is a safe option for this election and any other. It is important though, that we understand how we vote by mail. What does it mean? What are we talking about when we say vote by mail? And where do we get good, verifiable information?

So, in most states, when we're talking about vote by mail, we're actually talking about the use of an absentee ballot. This distinction actually matters because only in a handful of states does the State send out a mail in ballot to all eligible voters in all other states. 

Know your state and local rules for vote by mail

Individuals are required to request an absentee ballot. Each election not in each election cycle, but each and every election. Some of you may even be on your second or third absentee ballot requests for this election cycle. states that have no excuse allow any individual voter who is eligible to vote in that election cycle to request a ballot for that election. states that require an excuse require voters to fit within a specific enumerated category to be able to request the ballot. 

Usually those categories include those over the age of 65, illness or disability—or in some instances, a being away from the county for a particular reason, like if you're a full time student away from your home county or if you're working out of state. Military folks also use absentee ballots, and people who are incarcerated but have not been convicted of a felony can also request an absentee ballot and exercise their right to vote. 

Georgia, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina are all states that have no excuse requirement for using absentee ballots. Alabama, Kentucky and West Virginia have waived their excuse requirement for this election so you can apply for an absentee ballot in those states as well. In Mississippi and Texas, there is a very narrow possible exception. You need to check with the state rules to see if you apply. 

In South Carolina, the state legislature is currently reviewing a bill to be able to expand absentee ballot use to everyone. Hopefully this is turned around quickly because time is of the essence when we're talking about mailing out and receiving ballots. 

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Apply Early

Regardless of how you vote, do not wait until the last minute if you're able to vote by mail and request an absentee ballot where you live, then apply now. Apply early. Don't apply often—you can only apply once—but apply early. 

If we're relying on the mail for your ballot to be sent out to you and some of the concerns around delays, you want to make sure there's more than enough time for processing your application requests. 

Usually, you download your ballot application, and then you submit it to your county election officials office. So whether that's via the mail, you mailing your application requests, or in some instances, you're able to scan in your application, or fax it in. Some states like Georgia, North Carolina have actually set up online request portals so that you can do your ballot application requests online.

You got your ballot, you made all your selections. You voted all the way down the ballots for all local candidates as well. Make sure you've read all the rules, double check them triple check them so that you understand and make sure that you filled out your ballot properly and that you know how you're supposed to return your ballot. 

If drop boxes are an option for you, you might want to take advantage of them secure Dropbox is an alternative If you are concerned about mail delays. A Dropbox, if you have it available is also good if you're getting your ballot a little bit closer to election time, and you want to make sure it gets counted and received in a timely manner.

If you don't want to use Dropbox, mail your ballot in early just like apply early, mail early. Don't delay. If there are possible mail delays, you want to make sure that you're getting enough time for your ballots to be received and counted. 

Check and see if you have early voting in your state and take advantage of it. Early voting period generally provides more time for people to be able to get to the polls at a designated location. Double check to see where the early voting locations in your area because it's usually not your normal polling place, and then get a plan. Double check your early voting locations because it's usually not your usual voting location. In some states, you can even vote early on a Saturday or a Sunday. 

Make a Vote Plan

Whether you decide to request an absentee ballot and drop it off or return it by mail, or you're going to vote in person either early or on Election Day, have a vote plan. know exactly what you're going to do, how you're going to do it and when you're going to do it. Also, once you've come up with your vote plan, have a backup plan to that plan. Make sure you have an alternative way that if something doesn't work out, you can still cast your vote. 

Then once you've developed your vote plan, talk with your family and friends and help them develop there's the better informed and better prepared people are, the better. The better informed we are, the better prepared we can be for election day. 

As Ella Baker said, "give light and people will find the way."

I'm Anoa Changa and this has been As The South Votes. Thank you for joining me. Peace.

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Anoa Changa

Anoa is an Atlanta based movement journalist, influenced by grassroots-led electoral organizing efforts. She is the host of the podcast “The Way with Anoa” tackling politics and current events through a Black progressive feminist perspective. She leads electoral justice and voting rights coverage for Prism, a BIPOC led nonprofit news outlet elevating stories, ideas, and solutions from people whose voices are underrepresented in mainstream media.