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Kentucky: Here's How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

The lead-up to the 2020 General Election on November 3 has us all participating in a new kind of debate: How do we guarantee our votes count amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Thankfully, Kentucky makes it fairly easy to avoid the polls and vote how you feel comfortable -- if you aren't registered, you can do so by mail or in person, and anyone is allowed to vote via absentee ballot if they're concerned about coronavirus.

The most complicated part of voting in Kentucky is making sure you meet deadlines and stay safe if you choose to go to the polls on Election Day, November 3. So we've put together all the information and dates you need to know to make sure your voice is heard and your body is safe. Make sure to vote absentee by mail as early as possible, or read up on coronavirus safety guidelines if you're heading to the polls. Happy voting!

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Kentucky?

The deadlines to register online, by mail, or in person are all October 5 at 4pm local time, but make sure to send the mail-in registration early enough that it's by that cutoff date. If possible, get it in the mail at least a week in advance -- just to be safe. 

If you're unsure about your voter status, you can check your voter record online.

How to register to vote in Kentucky

The easiest way to register to vote is to fill out the state's online registration form. If the online route isn't a good fit for you, Kentucky offers a couple of other options: You can download an application in PDF format to either be returned in person or mailed to the State Board of Elections, or you can register in person and pick up a voter registration card at your county clerk's office

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Kentucky?

Yes, you can vote early in Kentucky, as long as you're registered. Early voting period runs from October 13 through November, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live. Your county clerk will provide a location for voting, and this location will be open every work day and on Saturdays for at least four hours. 

You'll need to bring along a valid photo ID to vote in Kentucky, which includes a driver's license, military ID, college ID, or Kentucky government ID. If you don't have a photo ID, you can get a free photo ID card from your clerk's office. Charmingly, Kentucky allows you to vote without any identification if you're known personally by an election officer... but don't count on Jimmy from high school Geometry to vouch for you. 

Additionally, there's the option of voting via absentee ballot, which anyone in the state of Kentucky is allowed to do right now. More on that below. 

Can I vote by mail?

Yes. Anyone can vote by mail, now that the state has added concerns over COVID-19 to the list of reasons to request an absentee ballot. Small warning, though: Once a voter has requested an absentee ballot, they cannot vote in person. The only exception to this rule is if the voter didn't receive their ballot by October 28, 2020.

How to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail in Kentucky

The simplest and quickest way to request an absentee ballot for mail-in voting is online. If you want to apply for an absentee ballot in person, you'll have to go through your county clerk and get your application in by October 9. That's the same cutoff date for online applications, though you'll have until 11:59pm ET to get yours submitted.

Once you receive your ballot, carefully follow the instructions detailing how to mark it and send it back to be counted. For example, make sure you sign both of the envelopes provided with your absentee ballot, and make sure you sign your signature to match what the state has on file. This is crucial. 

Also crucial: getting your absentee ballot in by the deadline. All mail-in absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3 and received no later than 6pm (local time) on November 6 to be counted.

"Voters are highly encouraged not to wait until Election Day to return by mail or hand deliver their absentee ballot, cast your ballot as soon as you receive it," the Kentucky State Board of Elections warns on its 2020 General Election website. "Do not delay!" 

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

Kentucky makes it easy to check your absentee ballot status online.

For additional peace of mind, just make sure you carefully follow the instructions and meet the deadlines. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your voter materials -- you don't want you ballot to be thrown out on some sort of technicality.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Polling places are open from 6am to 6pm on Election Day. Find your polling place using the state's locator

"To avoid large crowds, voters are encouraged to vote early, however, voters that still wish to vote on Election Day are encouraged to avoid peak times if possible (8:00-9:00, 12:00-1:00, 5:00-6:00)," the State Board of Elections says. 

While voting absentee by mail and voting early in person are likely the safest ways to vote in this election, there are still ways you can reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several safety tips to help voters protect themselves and others. 

Here's what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

Additional Kentucky voting resources

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Ruby Anderson is a News Writer at Thrillist. Send your tips to randerson@thrillist.com.