Making My Plan

In the last election there was a brief, comic video by then-Vice President Joe Biden about making a plan to vote. Things don’t feel so comic now (although Biden really has a nice light touch, and no fear of mocking himself, and isn’t that pleasant?) but the essential message is still important. Make a plan to vote.

In those far off days of 2016 that meant relatively simple things like “where do I vote,” and “can I walk/Lyft/drive/take the bus there.” These days… oy. So many complicating factors. Not to brag, because we’re having other problems like the tendency of the state to spontaneously combust, but here in California getting information and voting is relatively straightforward: you can check here to find out 1) if you’re registered, 2) where to vote, 3) what your options are. This year, for the first time, all registered voters in California will receive a mail-in ballot no later than 29 days before the election (now that the Postmaster General has pinkie-promised not to slow down the mail no matter how hard the Boss asks). Me, my current plan is to drop off my mail-in ballot early. And then track its progress, because California (and 38 other states) makes it possible to do just that. It’s almost like we live in the future, right?

Want to vote by mail? Here’s a handy resource from NBC News: a map that shows you the states in which you can vote by mail without having to supply an reason; the states in which you can use Covid-19 as your reason for wanting to vote by mail; and the states in which you cannot vote by mail by giving anxiety-about-Covid-exposure as a reason. Acceptable non-Covid-exposure excuses vary from state to state, but may include being out of town or unable to leave work on the day, and during the hours, when the polls are open; disability; being a senior citizen; working on the election outside your precinct; sickness (or caring for a sick person); a religious obligation that will keep you from the polls on that day; inability to find transportation to the polls. But every state has different rules, and different hoops you need to jump through to provide a valid excuse.

Not only ahe rules are different for each state–they can vary from county to county! The NBC website linked to above lets you click through and find out the rules and deadlines for your state–but it’s a good idea to see if your county has any wrinkles you need to iron out beforehand. Click through and the info should be on the state website–but if it’s not, find it now. Forewarned is forearmed.

Here are some questions to help you plan your vote:

  • Does my state have mail in voting (sometimes called Absentee voting).
    • If yes, Do I have to request a ballot or will one come to me automagically?
      • If I have to request one, what’s the deadline?
      • Do I have to provide a reason for getting a mail in ballot? If so, is fear-of-Covid an acceptable reason?
      • Do I have to provide documentation for my reason and does any of it have to be notarized? Yes, some places are really determined to make this difficult. I’m sorry, but persevere. It’s important.
    • If my state does not accept Covid as a reason for absentee voting, what reasons will it accept? (Again, might be things like being out of town, having a disability, being over 65, being unable to get time off from work to vote; being unable to find transportation to the poll, illness or caring for someone who is ill during the entire time the polls are open,,, again, it varies by state).
  • Does my state have in-person early voting?
    • If yes, when does early voting start and end?
    • What are the mechanics of early voting in my state and county? Where do I have to go? Do I need ID?
  • If I want to wrap myself in Saran Wrap™ and a Darth Vader mask and go in person on Election Day and do everything the old-fashioned way, where is my polling station?
    • Do I need ID? Many states, no, but make sure what the rules are locally and make sure you have what you need.
    • Do I have a way to get there? Can I take the time off from work?

REMEMBER TO CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION. Even if you get knocked off the registration rolls for some reason, many states allow you to re-regster that day or a few days before. So check now, and check again. Many of the state websites the NBC website links to will let you doublecheck your registration. And if you’re not registered yet? Do it now.


Why do I care? Aside from the current political situation, which seems like enough of a reason on its own… Let me take you back to the 1972 Presidential election. It was the first national election after the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971 gave the vote to 18 year olds (on the theory that if you were old enough to be sent to war, you were old enough to vote). And I was a brand new 18-year-old registered voter in the college town of New London, Connecticut, a town that had been run by the Democratic machine forever. The Machine looked at all these new  voters at the college, who could, if they cared, utterly disrupt what had been a smoothly running, highly beneficial governmental operation, and decided to challenge all our registrations. It might have been 600-1000 registrations, but on a local level that could make a big difference.

I will go out on a limb and say that most of us at the college had been, up to that point, totally interested in the presidential election, not local politics, but having our registrations thrown out changed that. While the challenge made its way through the court, I–and a large-ish number of my college-mates–started going door to door, getting people to register and, later, to vote. And some of the faculty at the college ran for office in the city and–the long and short of it is that the Democratic machine created exactly the problem they wanted to avoid–a whole passel of new, engaged voters introducing a whole lot of non-Machine elected officials into their cozy operation.

The national election, which all of us had been so excited about voting in? The wrong guy won re-election… and the next couple of years was Watergate. So, you know–vote. Make a plan.

5 thoughts on “Making My Plan

  1. Alameda County just sent me a notification in the mail about when to expect my mail ballot. The Secretary of State sent me an email about a program to track my ballot. Of course, I live in California, where voting, at least, is something we’re doing right.

    I looked at that NBC report and was appalled to see all the hurdles being put in people’s way. Some of those are new hurdles based on the latest campaign of voter suppression, but others are just outdated procedures that no one wants to fix.

    Motor voter — registering people when they get their driver’s license or state ID — and mail balloting have been the big actions that expanded democracy. We probably need more creative thinking in this direction. That is, we don’t just need to fight the voter suppression out there, we also need to come up with more ways to make it easy to vote.

    BTW, right now I am focused on city council, the transit board, and the school board — that is, local races. I already know who I want to vote for nationally and the Congressional and Assembly races aren’t meaningfully contested. But local matters. So don’t just make a plan; educate yourself about the local races and vote reasonably there, too. (And if you live in a place like Oakland that has ranked choice voting, learn how it works and use it to your advantage.)

  2. In the case of my family (3 registered voters), our situation is complicated by being evacuated due to the California wildfires. We are all registered for mail-in voting. Planning becomes even more critical, since our mail is being forwarded to a distant post office (2 hours from where we are staying).

    Right now, we’re waiting to see if we will be able to return home before October 6, which is when our ballots will be mailed — planning includes knowing and watching those deadlines! Our county provides drop-off boxes, so assuming we receive our ballots, we can submit them safely. Our plan of last resort — if our ballots never reach us — is to vote in person, explaining our circumstances.

  3. Remember to look at your local judges, too. It can take some research as they are often (supposedly) non-partisan. However, judges are highly influential and we need to make sure we have judges who care about our most vulnerable populations, and are not in the pockets of big business.

    1. It’s always important to look at judges. At the very least, you can check on Bar Association recommendations, which are usually non-partisan and deal mostly with legal knowledge and experience. Our only local race includes a candidate who describes himself as a “civil rights lawyer” when in fact he has primarily done securities law and has not done the kind of work you think of when you say civil rights. I’m voting for his opponent, a Latina criminal defense lawyer. I might have leaned to her in the first place for several reasons, but the civil rights claim really put me off.

      Now I’m looking at the transit boards and water districts and such. You really want good people in those jobs, too.

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