Opinions, Editorials

Editorial: Common 2020 Election Questions Answered: How to Vote, Find Reliable News This Week

The upcoming election will be different from any other election in recent history. It is unclear whether the country will know who won the election on the night of Nov. 3. In anticipation of the upcoming week, The Heights would like to point readers to reliable sources of information, answer questions about the election, and clear up common misconceptions. 

Tuesday is Election Day. How can I vote?

This depends on a few things: your state, your registration, and if you will vote in person or by mail. If you are registered in Massachusetts, you can check your exact polling location on the Massachusetts Secretary of State website. If you live on campus or directly adjacent to Boston College, your polling location is likely Ward Elementary School on 10 Dolphin Rd., Newton Centre, Mass., 02459, which is a five- to 10-minute walk from Bapst Library. But polling locations are determined by your address’s ward, so even someone who lives right next to campus may have a different polling location. 

Bring a photo ID with you. If you are voting for the first time in a federal election in Massachusetts or are an infrequent voter, you’ll need to bring proof of Massachusetts residency as well. A Massachusetts-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, is sufficient. If you do not have one, you can also use other printed identification that has both your Massachusetts address and your name on it, such as a recent utility bill, anything mail addressed to you, your rent statement, or your lease. 

Polling locations in Massachusetts are required to be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., but some will open as early as 5:45 a.m. Go early, if possible—but as long as you are in line by 8 p.m., you will be allowed to vote.

If you are voting by mail and are registered in Massachusetts, complete your ballot exactly as directed by the instructions and send it in as soon as possible. For Massachusetts, ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive by Nov. 6 in order to be counted. It is also possible for you to hand in your ballot in person at Newton City Hall (or your local election office) dropbox if you do so no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. 

If you’re voting in person or by mail outside of Massachusetts, please see USA.gov, an official government website with information about voting and how to vote. For mail-in ballots, deadlines vary by state, but for most states, ballots must be received by Election Day. You can visit vote.org for state-specific information on absentee ballot deadlines.

I am voting by mail, and I live at or near Boston College. Where can I mail my completed absentee ballot? Do I need a stamp?

There are several USPS drop boxes on or near campus. One is on the corner of Comm. Ave. and College Road, another is by White Mountain, one is in front of Carney, and another is by the front entrance of Bapst. You can also mail your ballot at the UPS Store near El Pelón or at the USPS post office in McElroy. Additionally, there is a USPS office about a mile away from campus at 12 Middlesex Rd, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. 

If you are mailing a Massachusetts ballot, you do not need a stamp, as postage is prepaid. If you are returning a ballot to another state, you generally need a stamp, unless your state has also prepaid your postage, which you can check here. If in doubt, use a stamp. USPS will not reject ballots just because they have insufficient postage, but nonetheless you should absolutely use a stamp unless your state has already pre-paid your postage.

Is there a difference between mail-in and absentee ballots?

The two terms are interchangeable, and simply refer to ballots that are mailed to voters

Is there a danger of fraud with mail-in ballots? Do they favor one party over another?

There is no evidence that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud, or that mail-in ballots substantially benefit one party over another, according to the Brookings Institution. People have voted by mail in America since the Civil War. The president himself voted by mail this year

How do news outlets get election results?

According to Voice of America, the Associated Press (AP), a nonprofit news organization, sends out thousands of reporters across the country. Those reporters get direct numbers from county clerks and local officials. Tallies are also pulled from state websites. All of this data is sent to a data entry center, which is virtual this year. As data comes in, news organizations, which have access to the data, will have enough information to call some elections, based on mathematical models that allow them to determine which way a state will swing before all of its votes are counted. 

Where can I go to determine if a candidate has won the election?

You can rely on the AP to correctly and accurately report election results and to call elections when appropriate. The organization has reported election results for 120 years and in 2016 was 99.8 percent accurate in calling all U.S. races, according to Voice of America. The AP does not call a race until the trailing candidate has no path to victory. Because of this approach, it does not project winners but instead only calls races when they are sure that a candidate has won a race.

How are voting results officially counted? Who counts them?

Ballots are collected and tallied by a local county board of elections. That board reports the results to its state’s secretary of state. After Election Day, states make an official canvas, which is the final vote count. The official canvas is used by the state’s electors, who meet and officially cast their votes. The Electoral College’s votes are sent to Congress, where they are carried from the Senate to the House by Senate pages and officially counted in the House, with both House and Senate members in attendance. NBC News has a guide that shows the process, which you can check out here.

What happens if the president contests the election results?

No one really knows. This has never happened before. There are a lot of potential scenarios, many hinging upon what exactly the president does or does not do. The Atlantic has an interesting piece that outlines numerous different possibilities.

The “end” of an election is usually considered to be when one candidate concedes to the other. But the U.S. Constitution does not mandate peaceful transfer of power because it presupposes it, legal scholar Lawrence Douglas wrote in a book published earlier this year. 

Electors for the Electoral College have to be appointed by Dec. 8, which for all intents and purposes means that a state has to be sure of its vote tally by then if it intends for its electors to vote in a way that reflects its population’s wishes. Since the 19th century, electors have voted consistently with how their state votes—with minor deviations in 2016—but it is not a legal necessity for them to do so. In theory, if there is doubt sown about the validity of the election results, electors could decide to vote in a way not consistent with their state’s vote. 

November 2, 2020