Many employers are making it easier than ever to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting millions of Americans to temporarily relocate to be with family or permanently move to a city or state with lower cost of living.
While there isn't comprehensive data yet on exactly how many Americans have moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Pew Research survey conducted in early June found that 22% of Americans have either moved due to the pandemic or know someone else who has.
Moving can be stressful, especially during a pandemic, and updating your voter registration and making a plan to vote might seem like the least urgent thing to do during move, or for someone going off to college.
But with the 2020 presidential election coming up on November 3, and deadlines to register to vote and request a ballot fast-approaching in many states, it's a good time to sort out your voting status and plan so you won't be scrambling at the last minute.
"Any time you move or you have a change, don't make voting less of a priority," Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute and the former Director of Elections in Denver, Colorado told Insider. "That should be on your list for your change of address or that kind of thing. And it's critical to update that regularly...so do it today."
How to vote if you've temporarily relocated
If you've relocated within your state or to another state, you'll need to vote by absentee ballot. All 50 states allow voters who will be away from the town or county where they're registered to vote on Election Day to vote absentee.
This year, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and many counties in Montana will be sending all or most registered voters a mail-in ballot.
In the remainder of the states, you must affirmatively request a mail ballot. You can find the deadlines to request an absentee ballot and whether you can do so online or by mail here.
Many people who have temporarily relocated to stay with family, at a vacation home, or who have gone off to college have signed up for temporary mail forwarding with the US Postal Service, which allows your mail to be forwarded to another address for a period of two weeks up to a year.
Keep in mind, however, that most states have laws prohibiting mail ballots from being forwarded by the Postal Service through permanent or temporary mail forwarding, McReynolds explained, to prevent people who have permanently moved from getting the wrong ballot.
"We don't want the ballot going outside of the jurisdiction if the voter no longer lives there because they'd be voting on the wrong ballot style," she said. "If they're moving within state, or if they're moving out of state, they'd be getting a ballot from a jurisdiction they no longer live in, so it's really a security risk to forward. And if the voter is no longer there, it comes back to the election office, and the election officials can reach out and send a forwardable notice to the voter encouraging them to update their address."
If you're registered to vote in one of the states or counties automatically sending registered voters a ballot, your election offices will send your ballot to the address where you're registered to vote. Because ballots cannot be forwarded, you must submit a separate absentee ballot application form to get your ballot directly sent to the address you'll be voting from.
Election officials and the Postal Service are urging voters to request and return their mail ballots as soon as possible, especially for voters voting absentee from another state. Voters can now request their November absentee ballot in every US state.
The Postal Service encourages domestic absentee voters to send their ballots back through the mail at least seven days before the election.
You'll also want to familiarize yourself with your state's deadlines for when ballots must be received: 28 states currently require ballots be received by Election Day in order to count, while 23 states and the District of Columbia require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day or by the day before.
How to vote if you've permanently moved
Congratulations on the move! If you're moving within your state, you may need to update your voter registration to your new address. You can do this online in many states, and if not, you can submit a new voter registration application in your new county by mail.
And if you moved to a different state, you should cancel your voter registration in your old state and re-register in your new one. While it's not illegal to be registered to vote in multiple states at once, updating your address and re-registering will help election officials maintain up-to-date voter rolls.
Some states now have automatic voter registration, where voters will be registered to vote or asked if they want to register when they get a driver's license or do other business at the DMV.
Most but not all states now offer online voter registration. If you recently moved to Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, or Wyoming, you must register to vote either in-person at your local elections office or with a paper application mailed to your election office by your state's deadline.
In some states, you may not be able to use the online registration portal if you haven't gotten a driver's license or state ID card in your new state yet, so be sure to double-check with your state's rules in case you have to register by mail.
You can find the deadlines to register to vote, which states allow voters to register on Election Day, and what ways you can register in all fifty states and Washington, DC here.
You must be 18 years of age and a US citizen to vote anywhere in the United States, but each state has slightly different rules to register. Some states require a person to be a resident of the state or county for a certain period of time in order to vote, and others restrict voting for some people with felony convictions.
Thirty-four states will require voters to present a government-issued photo ID or an official document, like a bank statement, paystub, or utility bill showing their name and address, in order to vote in-person this year.
Kathleen Unger, the founder and board chairwoman of voter protection group VoteRiders, told Insider that the organization is partnering with other advocacy groups and big law firms to give personalized assistance to voters to understand the ID laws in their state, get the required ID, and be confident in their ability to vote.
Twenty-five states have non-strict photo ID laws, meaning that voters who lack the required documentation can sign an affidavit or reasonable impediment declaration under penalty of perjury in order to vote. Nine states, however, have strict voter ID laws in which voters who lack the required ID must cast a provisional ballot and later present proof of residency to have their vote counted.
"People often don't think about it," Unger said of obtaining an ID. "It never ceases to amaze me that people have voter registration so ingrained in their thinking that the idea that voter ID is different from and in addition to voter registration is hard to penetrate. They hear the words voter ID, but they think voter registration. And there are a number of states where it's not enough to register to vote."
If you need assistance figuring out the voter ID laws in your state, affording the costs of obtaining a photo ID, or making a photocopy of your ID to send in with your mail ballot, as required in some states, nonprofit organizations like VoteRiders can help.
Some states have further restrictions on first-time voters. In Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, first-time voters who registered by mail must vote in-person in their first election, and other states require first-time voters to submit a photocopy of an ID with their ballot.