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Your Guide To The November Election: How To Vote, How It Works And Pandemic Impact

Stephanie Daniel

From the presidency and Congressional representatives to governorship in 11 states, there’s a lot at stake in the November 3 election.

Because there has been a lot of confusing and often inaccurate information circulating, we thought it would be good to review some American election basics.

First, here’s what you need to know about voting in Colorado.


To vote, you must be registered. Each state has different rules and deadlines, and the rules may change as we continue to assess the impact of the pandemic.

For voting information for Coloradans, check out the Colorado Secretary of State website or Vote.org.

To register to vote in Colorado, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be 16 years old to preregister to vote
  • Be 17 years old and turning 18 years old on or before the date of the next general election to be eligible to vote in a primary election
  • Be 18 years old to vote in all other elections
  • Be a Colorado resident for at least 22 days before the election
  • Must not be serving a sentence of confinement or detention for a felony conviction (Note: Those on probation or parole ARE ELIGIBLE to vote)


  • October 9 - Counties will begin mailing ballots for the November 3 General Election. Every voter in Colorado receives a mail ballot. Your mail ballot will be sent to the mailing address you provided when you registered to vote. To check what address you provided when registering to vote, please visit www.GoVoteColorado.gov.
  • October 26 - deadline to register to vote or update your registration and still receive a ballot in the mail.
  • Oct 26, 2020 - Nov 2, 2020 - Early Voting
  • November 3 - Election Day In Colorado, you can register to vote and vote in person up to 7 PM on Election Day.
  • Your county clerk must receive your ballot no later than 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. If you are not sure if your ballot will arrive in time, drop it off in person. Contact your county clerk and recorder for drop-off and drop-box locations.

If you wish to vote in-person, you may do so at a voter service and polling center. To find your local polling locations, please visit www.GoVoteColorado.gov.


The nominees: The primary and caucus system chooses thousands of delegates who meet at national conventions to officially nominate their party’s presidential candidate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, emerging from the primary/caucus season with 2627 delegates (1,990 are needed). Incumbent President Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination with 2376 out of 2,472 delegates.

With far fewer delegates, there are also candidates running as nominees of independent or third parties, including the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Birthday Party (candidate Kanye West).

Why the electoral college

The electoral college is a system that traces its roots back to the founding of our nation and the legacy of white supremacy.

Many of the founding fathers mistrusted direct democracy (“the tyranny of the majority,” according to Alexis de Tocqueville) and wanted Congress to choose the President.

Creating this layer between the popular vote and the final election was a compromise. It would ensure, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, that the “sense of the people” was preserved while the selection was in the hands of “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.”

Many historians also believe this “compromise” was reached to appease Southern slave owners by inflating Southern states’ population numbers with the “three-fifths” clause that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. More people means more congressional representation.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as it has members of Congress — one elector for each congressperson, and one for each senator. In addition, the District of Columbia has three electors. All states, except Maine and Nebraska, have a “winner-takes-all” policy in which all electoral votes are cast in that state for whomever wins the popular vote there. There are 538 electoral votes, with larger states having more electoral votes (California has 55, Alaska has 3).

Popular vote versus electoral college vote: There have been five times in U.S. history when a popular vote winner was not elected by the Electoral College — most recently in 2000, when Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote but George W. Bush became president, and in 2016, when Donald Trump won the Electoral College while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

How can this happen?

States with smaller populations, Alaska for instance, have greater representation per capita in the Electoral College than populous states. If one candidate wins big in a number of populous states, they will likely win the popular vote. But if their opponent wins in a number of less populous states, he or she could win the Electoral College.

There has been a lot of political chatter about doing away with the Electoral College. Many believe it violates the one person-one vote mantra fundamental to American democracy. But doing so would mean states with less population would lose their electoral clout.,hanging the system would also require a Constitutional amendment — a messy, politically fraught process.


The pandemic has already impacted primary elections this year. Voting at the polls could mean exposure to the coronavirus; polling places have to adjust to take proper precautions.

There’s also been a push all over the country to expand vote-by-mail options. Five states — Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii — automatically send registered voters a ballot.

This change is not without controversy — including from Trump himself — but bipartisanpolicy.org talked to three state and local election officialswho say that vote-by-mail is not more subject to fraud than in-person voting.

Nearly all states already either allow mail-in voting options or have expanded those options and made them easier. Only five states (Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas) provide in-person voting as the only option without a valid excuse for an absentee ballot. As of this writing, the coronavirus is NOT an accepted reason to request a mail-in or absentee ballot in those states.

Mail-in Ballot vs. Absentee Ballot: Traditionally, an absentee ballot is used to cast an absentee vote, usually by mail, by someone who can’t physically be present at a polling center on Election Day. In normal election years, that may be a college student who is living out-of-state, a member of the military or overseas voters.

A mail-in ballot is currently used in at least 34 states to some degree. Mail-in ballots are either requested by the voter, or, in eight states, automatically sent to all registered voters. (That is known as “universal vote-by-mail.”) The ballots are mailed back by the voter or deposited at a polling location by a certain time on or before election day. Absentee voting is one form of mail-in voting, but the terms are often used interchangeably.


There are many different scenarios in 2020 that could cause a massive dysfunction in America’s democracy.

Millions are expected to vote-by-mail for the first time — but as states are racing to update voting systems and expand mail-in vote options, few have procedures and technologies in place to ensure that millions of mail-in ballots can be received and counted. Georgia expanded mail-in ballots for its June primary, and the results were disastrous.

Many states will count mail-in ballots if they are postmarked on Election Day. That means vote tallying could last well beyond November 3, sowing confusion and concern. Mail delays or late-mailed ballots may result in thousands of ballots being disqualified and votes not counted.

In-person polling places will still be available in most states, but there’s a dire shortage of poll workers nationwide.

Finally, there is concern that should Trump lose, he will not concede the election, leading to drawn-out fights in the courts.

America Amplified: Election 2020, a national public media collaboration, was launched in the fall of 2019 to bring a different kind of reporting into public media coverage of this year’s election. This initiative aims to put people, not preconceived ideas, at the center of its reporting process — using listening events, public forums, crowd-sourcing, polls and social media to listen first to the concerns and aspirations of American communities. The results will then be reported back through a network of participating public media stations across the country.