Sylvia Smalls, a 77-year-old retired teacher from Charleston, S.C., dropped this bit of wisdom during a Zoom birthday party for her son and my dear friend Aaron Polkey. It came after his husband closed out the fete by asking everyone to register and vote in the November presidential election. The reasons for voting have been clear since before Trump delivered his dystopian inaugural address. And Trump is doing his level best to undermine confidence in the entire electoral process. But Miss Sylvia, who qualifies to vote absentee in South Carolina under the “you are 65 or older” provision, is ready.
“In order to make sure my ballot is received in time to be counted, I’m going to do two things. First, if my absentee ballot doesn’t arrive in early October as expected, I’m going to keep calling the elections office until it arrives,” Miss Sylvia told me when I followed up via email. “Second, once my absentee ballot arrives, I’m going to complete it, drive to the elections office, put on a mask, go inside, and hand-deliver it to the elections clerk.” Which might not be a bad idea, since Charleston saw record mail-in and absentee voting in the June 9 U.S. Senate primaries.
Miss Sylvia isn’t alone. According to a 2017 white paper from the Election Assistance Commission, “In the states where election officials mail ballots to all registered voters, recent data shows the majority of those voters do not return their ballots in the mail. They either drop them off at designated locations or at drop boxes.” That report also highlighted a 2015 presentation by the director of elections in Denver, who said she calls mail-in voting “ballot delivery” because in their experience “most voters actually return their ballot in person, as opposed to using the Post Office to mail it back.”
Rules vary from state to state on mail-in voting, early voting and absentee voting. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a great resource for information on applying for an absentee ballot and early voting. So, click through to learn about your state’s requirements and deadlines for applications. To find your local election office, go to www.usa.gov/election-office. And then there are those ballot drop boxes in use in states such as Connecticut, Oregon and Washington. But Republicans and the Trump campaign are trying to block them in Pennsylvania.
That’s why Miss Sylvia isn’t taking any chances, and she is determined to bring others along. “My husband and I are doing this together,” she said. “I’m telling all of my family and friends to hand-deliver their ballots, and I’m also spreading the word in church.”
Think of it as a twist on “souls to the polls.” That’s when African Americans leave church on Sunday and head to early voting sites in their respective states — if they can still do that sort of thing. Early voting has been cut back in some states since 2010. But if you can vote early with an absentee or mail-in ballot in the upcoming presidential election, be like Miss Sylvia: Put on a mask, go inside and hand-deliver it to your local election office.
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