Know Your Rights

✔ Prepare to Be Your Own Advocate

Look up your state’s voting policies.

Get familiar with the important deadlines, options, ID requirements, ballot drop and polling locations, and more so you can be your own advocate.

If you vote in-person, have information handy (screenshot or bookmarked on your phone) so you can advocate for yourself or others in case you believe you are misinformed at the polls.

Election Protection Hotline:


Save the Election Protection Hotline ( 1-866-OUR-VOTE ) in your phone in case you have any issues trying to vote.

Flexible Voting Options

✔ Learn About Your Flexible Voting Options

Every state (and sometimes county) is different.

The two main options are: early voting and absentee voting.

Early voting is in-person voting during a designated period, usually two to three weeks before an election. Some states call this in-person absentee voting. During early voting, polling places are often consolidated, and hours may provide flexibility in the morning, evening or weekends.

Absentee voting is when a voter completes their ballot at home and mails it in or drops it off at a designated drop site in available states. Absentee voting is often called vote-by-mail or vote-at-home.

Some states only allow people to vote early or cast absentee ballots for specific reasons, but many are opening absentee voting up to everyone or including “COVID-19” as one of the acceptable reasons in 2020.

Check to see your state’s requirements and policies.

Absentee / Vote-by-Mail

✔ Voting Absentee

Most states require you to request an absentee ballot if you wish to vote-by-mail or complete your ballot at home and drop it off. There are deadlines both to request and to return your absentee ballot.

Be sure to pay attention to when your ballot request or completed ballot must be received by election officials, and not just when it must be postmarked.

*** NOV. 1 ALERT: Election officials are urging voters to drop off their ballots if they haven’t yet mailed them. ***

To ensure your ballot is accepted and counted, pay close attention to the instructions. For example:

  • Are you required to have a witness sign your ballot envelope?
  • Are you required to sign your envelope (or mark if you are unable to sign), Did you sign your name the way you usually do as it might be compared to the signature you used when you registered or got your driver’s license?
  • Was there an envelope or multiple envelopes that came with your ballot? Did you stuff your ballot the correct way as you may need to stuff your ballot into one envelope and then put it in another envelope.
  • If you are mailing your ballot, do you need postage?

Find out how to vote absentee and your options to return your ballot in your state.

Some states have proactively sent out absentee ballot request forms and a few sent out absentee ballots to registered voters.


✔ Returning Your Absentee Ballot

There are deadlines for when your absentee ballot must be received by election officials. It’s critical to look at the date when your ballot must be received by election officials, and not just when it must be postmarked.

*** NOV. 1 ALERT: Election officials are urging voters to drop off their ballots if they haven’t yet mailed them. ***

In addition to returning your ballot by mail, almost all states allow voters to drop off their ballot at designated drop locations. Some ballot drop locations may experience lines on Election Day, so plan ahead to ensure your ballot is received by the deadline. Some states also allow voters to deliver their friends’, family members’, and dependents’ ballots and have instructions for taking advantage of this option.

Voters with disabilities or other rare circumstances may be eligible to have an agent from your local election office pick up your ballot. Each state (and sometimes each county) has different options and processes.

Check or contact your local election office to find out more about what the possibilities and locations are in your state.


✔ Tracking Your Absentee Ballot

Many states allow you to track your absentee ballot in the mail to have more assurance it will be received on time.

Issues With Your Ballot

✔ Spoiled Ballots

If you damaged or make a mistake while completing your ballot, you’ll need to request a new ballot to ensure your vote is accurately recorded. If you’re voting absentee, contact your local elections office to find out the process for requesting a new ballot. If you’re voting in person, ask a poll worker for assistance.


✔ Never Received Your Requested Ballot

If you do not have your absentee ballot because it never arrived in the mail, it became lost or you forgot it: Most states will require you to complete a standard affidavit or other form documentation confirming what happened. Then, you will be allowed to vote in person. In some cases, you will complete a provisional ballot that will be counted once it’s been verified you did not already vote. Check your in-person voting options for your state if you never received your ballot

Know How to Change How You Want to Vote

✔ You Can Usually Change Your Mind About Your Method of Voting

Most states have protocols in place that allow voters who requested an absentee ballot or voted using an absentee ballot to vote in-person.

If you have your absentee ballot and decide you want to vote in person:

Take it with you to the polls. Depending on your state you may be able to use the absentee ballot as your in-person ballot. Alternatively, poll workers may take your absentee ballot to mark it as spoiled and then provide you with a new in-person ballot. If you decide to vote in-person and have the option to vote early, do so.

If you do not have your absentee ballot because you mailed it in, but are nervous it will not be received by election officials by the deadline or you want to change your vote:

Rules vary by state and policies often depend on whether election officials have already processed the ballot. In some states, including Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and New Hampshire, an in-person vote will nullify an earlier cast mail ballot.

Your Rights at the Polls

✔ Poll Workers are Temporary Workers. Many Will Be New.

Poll workers, also known as election judges, are regular people just like us who sign up to help each election. They are well-meaning and performing an important civic function, and many are well-trained and experienced. But these are temporary positions, and many poll workers will be new this year. And sometimes poll workers rely on old information or are misinformed. They do not have all the answers.

This is why it’s important to be familiar with the voting policies in your state/county. Should you believe you are being misinformed, refer the poll worker to the correct information from your state or local election officials.

If the poll worker still insists on their position, contact the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.


✔ Provisional Ballots

Provisional ballots help ensure voters are not excluded from the voting process due to an administrative error. A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when the eligibility of a voter is in question and needs to be resolved before the vote is counted.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 guarantees that a voter is entitled to vote using a provisional ballot if the voter states they are entitled to a vote. Some states call provisional ballots “challenge ballots” or “affidavit ballots”.

Individuals may be asked to complete a provisional ballot if there is uncertainty about the voter’s eligibility. For example, this could include cases in which the potential voter’s name is not on the voter rolls; required documentation in the state, such as an acceptable form of identification or proof of residency, is not presented when trying to vote; or even if records show the potential voter received a mail-in ballot.

In most states, provisional ballots are kept separate from other ballots until after the election and a determination is made as to whether each voter was eligible to vote, and therefore if the ballot should be counted. Usually within the first day or two after an election, election officials will investigate the provisional ballots to determine eligibility. Voters who used a provisional ballot can and should proactively reach out to their election official to provide information or documentation to help resolve questions about their eligibility to vote.


✔ Demand a Regular Ballot. Use a Provisional Ballot as a Last Resort.

Each election, voters are told they need to complete a provisional ballot, when they could have used a regular ballot. Don’t simply accept a provisional ballot.

Call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR VOTE to explain the situation and see if you should vote using a regular or provisional ballot based on your specific circumstance.


✔ Don’t Be Turned Away Without Asking for A Provisional Ballot

Even if you are told you cannot vote using a regular ballot, you should state you are entitled to a vote and ask for a provisional ballot.


✔ Stay In Line, Even If It’s Past Closing Hours

We expect long lines during early voting and on election day. If the polls close while you’re still in line, stay in line—you have the right to vote.

Save 1-866-OUR-VOTE in Your Phone

Contact the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you have any questions or face issues at the polls. The Election Protection Hotline is staffed by volunteer lawyers to help you with your questions. Reports also provide voting rights groups with data to monitor where there are trouble areas to send reinforcements.

After Election Day

✔ Be Patient with Results

It’s our right to have an accurate and fair count of our elections—that means all voters’ ballots must be counted. Because absentee ballots will account for a large percentage of votes this year and the delivery times of these ballots vary, we will need to be prepared to wait for election results while every eligible vote is counted. This is not a sign that there’s a problem—it’s a sign that we’re being thorough and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard!


Pay Attention Even After You Vote

It will be critical to ensure every vote is counted this election.

✔ Contested and Provisional Ballots

If there are questions about the legitimacy of your ballot for any reason, your local election office may try to contact you via email or mail. Alternatively, they may post notices or make announcements for voters to take additional action after the election. There are a limited number of days to respond as election officials have to count ballots by a certain deadline.

If you voted using a provisional ballot, be sure to proactively follow up with your elections office to resolve any questions and ensure your vote is counted.

✔ Recounts

Many elections may require a recount as the races may be too close to call. In some cases, counties may ask for hundreds or thousands of volunteers to help recount efforts and to help ensure the integrity of the election. Election officials have deadlines for reporting official results so swift action will be needed.

If you or anyone you know are willing to volunteer after the election, please pay attention to where recounts may happen and may need volunteers.

✔ Run Off Elections

Some elections require a candidate to win at least 51% to be selected as the winner of the election. Should no candidate win 51% of the vote, a runoff election will be held, most often a month or two later between the top two candidates in that election.

Many voters are not as aware of runoff elections as they receive far less attention.

Sign up for Rock the Vote’s election reminders or use any of our tools and we will use your address to notify you of any runoff elections.

This content was created by Rock the Vote in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice.