I just finished voting early in this 2020 United States presidential election, which New York, and possibly other states too, allow you to do. I never voted in a presidential election before due to me not being old enough to vote at the time, so it feels good carrying out this new duty of mine as an American and participating in this American democracy.
To those of you who will be voting, especially if this is your first time voting in a presidential election, there are some important things I think you should know. I'm not going to tell you who you should vote for, since I think you and you alone should be in charge of that decision, but rather I want to share some things I learned after voting that I think you should know.
First things first, even if you're already sure when and where you must go to vote, make sure you confirm one last time where you need to go specifically in order to vote, as well as what times of the day you can vote, right before you go out to vote. About 2 or 3 months ago, I entered my address in their website, it told me my voting place would be this place really far from where I lived, like, I would have to take a train, or maybe 2 or 3 buses, to get there. Then, this morning, when I entered my address again in their website to confirm the time and location I have to vote at, this time they told me my location would be at this place a lot closer to where I live, which was just a short bus ride away.
So before going out to vote, confirm where you need to go specifically, and when, right before going out, because even if you confirmed it a week or month ago, it's possible it changed since then. You don't want to be told you need to vote at location X at time Y, but then a week or so later when it's actually time to go out and vote, you find out it's been changed to location Z or something.
Speaking of times, make sure you arrive a little early to vote. For me, voting started at 12 PM and ended at 8 PM, so I made sure to leave at around 11:50 AM. If you know voting will end at 8 PM, do not show up at like 7 PM and expect to make it to the end of the line, into the booth, and finish filling out the voting ballot before those 60 minutes run out, because chances are they will, especially if a long line like mine awaits you.
When I went out to my voting site to vote, I had to wait in a very, and I mean very, long line. This long line was like 7 to 8 blocks long! Some of you, depending on where you're voting specifically, may be lucky and get to wait in a much shorter line, and others might have to wait in lines just as long, if not longer. The point is, you will find yourself waiting for at least an hour or two in some kind of long line right before you can go into the booth to vote, so I recommend you bring something with you when you go out to vote to keep you occupied, like a toy, game, or book you can read. The guy in front of me had some kind of book or magazine to read, the women behind me brought their own portable chairs or stools
that you can fold, unfold, and carry with you in 1 hand, carrying them with them as the line moved, and unfolding them to sit down while the line stopped, the girl behind them downloaded movies to watch on her phone using her headsets, while the guys behind her brought their nintendo switches, and several other people were simply on their smartphones most of the time. Others weren't so lucky and they either didn't know they would be waiting in such a long line so they brought nothing, or they did know but forgot to bring something to kill the time. One guy came to the site to vote, joined the line like everyone else, but was like "screw this i'm outta here" after he realized how long the line was and how long he would be waiting. I think I might have been the youngest voter on that line since almost everyone else I saw looked much older than me.
In addition to bringing something to keep you occupied, I also recommend, since you will find yourself waiting in one of these long lines, that you use the bathroom/restroom or something before you begin going out to vote. The last thing you want is to join a long line, wait in it until you're just about to reach the front of the line, but then be forced to leave the line to go pee or poop, then have to rejoin the line all the way from the very beginning because nobody was kind enough to "save" your spot.
Just to give you an idea of how long these lines can be, the long line in this picture is what half my line looked like, assuming that the very top left corner of the picture was the "back" of the line, and the very bottom right corner of the picture was the "front" of the line: https://thehumornation.com/storage/2017/08/Long_Wait.jpg
Now imagine going through this long line not once, but twice, and line only moved like 5 or 6 steps every 3 or 4 minutes. That's pretty much how long my line was.
Be ready to wait in some kind of ridiculously long line, voters, and be prepared with something you can use to keep yourself occupied as you wait.
The next thing to keep in mind is that a mask, or some kind of cloth or face-covering covering your nose and mouth, is mandatory. You will not, under any circumstances, be allowed to go into the booth with your mouth exposed, at least not in New York. If you can't find or afford a face mask, do what I did and wrap an scarf, towel, rag, bandana, or t-shirt around your face to cover your nose and mouth. Since people are going to be near each other for hours, it is necessary that these safety measures are taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
When you finally make it to the booths, you will be required to provide some kind of legal form of identification such as a driver's license before you can get your ballot. I provided my permit. Make sure you bring something with you that you can use as a legal form of identification. It should have at least your full name, picture, an address, date of birth, and gender. If you aren't sure what to actually do when you're in the booth, you can ask around and staff members will help you, which is what I did and what happened respectively. There will also be staff members and resource officers right outside the building, that will go around instructing new voters in line such as myself on how to properly fill out the ballot, at least in New York. They will have a copy of the ballot, or at least what it will look like, so you will know what to expect.
There is this thing that exists called an "Affidavit Ballot" where if you can't prove you're legally allowed to vote, such as not having a legal form of identification on you, you may still be able to vote, but you have to provide a bunch of extra information, and a bunch of people have to investigate you to make sure your vote was valid or something. I'm really not sure how that works, but you can still read about that here. http://co.harrison.ms.us/elected/circuitclerk/elections/affadavit.asp
You will be required to use a black-inked pen when filling out your ballot, and only a black-inked pen. The staff made it clear, at least in New York, that ballots filled out with pens that aren't black-inked will not be accepted, and neither will ballots filled out in pencil, crayon, marker, highlighter, or anything else other than a black-inked pen. If you have no black-inked pen on your person, they will provide one for you that you get to keep, even after you finish filling out and submitting the ballot. Your ballot will have each of the candidates' full names, along with a bubble next to each of them. You will bubble in only 1 of the bubbles next to the name of whoever you're voting for, out of the people listed in each specified category.
In addition to voting for a president and vice president, I learned that you apparently also have to vote for a "borough president," a "representative in congress," a "state senator," a "member of the assembly," "justices of the supreme court," a "judge of the civil court county," and a "judge of the civil court," but I barely know what any of those are, still making sure I was following the instructions on my ballot and the instructions provided to me by the staff.
I thought it would be as simple as picking between Joe Biden and Donald Trump then immediately submitting my ballot, since those two are the ones on the ballot who I and most other voters are most familiar with, but there were many other names on my ballot that I either didn't recognize or just never heard of, such as "Howie Hawkins," "Angela Nicole Walker," "Jo Jorgensen," "Jeremy Cohen," "Brock Pierce," "Karla Ballard," "Joann Ariola," "Dao Yin," "Mojgan Cohanim Lancman," "Bob Cohen," "Judith Goldiner," "Kenneth Schaeffer," "Afua Atta-Mensah," "Justin Sweet," "Leonard Livote," and "Jessica Earle-Gargan".
So you may want to familiarize yourself with at least some of these people, as well as learn what a "borough president" and all those other things are, so you're better informed than I am when filling out your ballot and casting your votes. Otherwise, you will likely see a bunch of names and positions on your ballot as well that you aren't familiar with or never heard of.
Ballots also come in at least 4 different languages — english, spanish, and the other two I think are chinese and japanese, so even if you don't fully understand english, but you understand spanish, chinese, or japanese, you will still be able to understand your ballot. There was also a fifth language that my ballot had, but I had no idea what that could be. It could be greek, german, latin, korean, russian, creole, or something else. I have no clue since I'm an english-speaking person.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some candidates' names can appear multiple times on a single ballot. This is not an accident, glitch, or error. This just means that that person is running for more than 1 political party. For example, my ballot listed both Joe Biden and Donald Trump's names at least twice. This meant that, in this case, Joe Biden was running for the "Democratic" and "Working Families" parties, while Donald Trump was running for the "Conservative" and "Republican" parties, and some people will have their name listed 3 times like "Leonard Livote" who was running for the "Democratic," "Republican," and "Conservative" parties all at once. I had no idea anything like that was possible where 1 person could run for multiple parties at once, but apparently it is, which is something else I learned.
The staff instructed us to never bubble in the same person's name more than once when filling out our ballots, even if we see it listed multiple times, nor bubble in the same row more than once, otherwise the ballot would not be accepted.
This is what my ballot looked like. Yours may be different depending on what state you're voting in, but this is to give you an idea of what you should expect. If the pictures are blurry it's because these were taken with my phone's camera and I couldn't keep my hand perfectly still. Also, maybe someone who understands multiple languages can figure out what that fifth language was... https://imgur.com/a/nSW1m09
After you finish filling out your ballot, you will insert it into one of these fancy machines, at least in New York: https://i.imgur.com/GijerUZ.jpg
The machine also has those same 5 languages on it, but again I'm only sure of the first 2 languages. Either way, assuming you did everything correctly, that will likely be it, and then you can exit the building through a back door or something. They may also give you a sticker or some other souvenir that you have the option of taking with you as you exit. The staff told us that if we made any errors when filling out the ballot, we are not to cross out or try to erase them, but rather we are to throw out the ballot and get a fresh new one so we can start over.
These are some things I think people should know if they're going out to vote for their first time. Things may change in the next 4 years in ways I can't predict, which can drastically change how voting works, and the way I did all of this isn't going to be exactly the same for everyone else or always be how I will do things, but right now, these are some things worth keeping in mind that I wanted to share, especially if you're voting for your first time like me and have no idea what to expect.
Edit: Fixed a few grammar errors. Also, thanks u/StewartTurkeylink and u/robmoo_re for pointing out what the 5 languages on the ballot actually were. They are english, spanish, chinese, korean, and Hindi. I assumed one of them was japanese since japanese letters tend to be squiggly lines and it looked that way on my ballot, but yeah, I'm only familiar with english, a tiny bit of spanish, and not really any of those other 3 languages, so I couldn't determine for sure what those were, but they did. u/bluskale and u/LilJourney also clarified that "you only need to be in line by the closing time" so even if you arrive at 7:59 PM and voting ends at 8 PM, you can still join the line and cast your vote. You just won't be able to join the line after that. You you should still leave and arrive much earlier than that though since you don't know if there will be any traffic on your way to the voting site that might delay your arrival by a few minutes. u/Dickticklers and u/djb4321 said apparently they didn't need any legal form of identification when they went out to vote, but you should still bring one anyway since you may need one where you're voting. Just because others said they didn't need one doesn't guarantee you won't need one either, so bring one anyways just in case.