Breaking News
More () »

How to study issues, candidates on your ballot

On the Missouri Secretary of State's website, voters can enter their addresses to see exactly what is on the ballot where they are registered to vote

ST. LOUIS — While this year is a presidential election, who gets the main job at the White House is not the only decision voters will make on Nov. 3.  

From judges to taxes to congressional representatives, voters have the power to make important choices that will impact our communities for years to come.

So how can you be prepared with your ballot?

On the Missouri Secretary of State's website, voters can enter their addresses to see exactly what is on the ballot where they are registered to vote. The language will be exactly as it appears on the ballot. Voters' local election authority will also be able to provide a sample ballot that looks like the real thing.

In Illinois, there is no statewide search tool, so voters have to check right away with their election authority. To find contact information for your election authority in Illinois, click here.

Now you see your options, but how do you make your decisions?

Look for trusted sources to give you information on candidates and issues, including established news outlets. Nonprofits you support or organizations you're part of may even endorse certain issues or candidates.

It is important to study and understand the candidates and issues on your ballot, but voting is not like a test. Voters are allowed to bring notes into the voting booth, so they do not have to remember who and what they are deciding. However, voters should keep election materials private, since anything that can be seen as campaigning in a polling place is not allowed.

RELATED: Voter Guide 2020: Everything you need to know about the election in Missouri and Illinois

Know to Vote

Your voting questions, answered

5 On Your Side has been diving into the election process in the bi-state to help you feel confident in voting safely and securely, but we know it can be confusing. Here are the top questions submitted to our Voter Access team, edited for clarity and to summarize multiple questions of the same nature.

You can also text your questions and concerns to 314-444-5125 and check out 5 On Your Side's' “Know to Vote” section for more.

Q: When will they mail me my ballot?

A: Even if you requested back in August, election authorities couldn't start sending out mail ballots until Sept. 22 in Missouri, and Sept. 24 in Illinois. With a higher volume of requests this year, it might take a little longer to get to you than usual, but it should be on the way. If you requested it before those dates and are still waiting, or if it's been more than two weeks since you requested it, you might want to call your election office.

Voting dates and deadlines to know

Q: How do I request a ballot?

A: You can stop by your local election office, or download the form online (click here for Missouri and click here for Illinois.)

Mail-in or absentee? Here's how to choose which ballot-by-mail is right for you

Q: What about postage?

A: Your ballot will come with a return envelope: in Missouri and in most* counties in Illinois, it will be pre-paid. Since it's USPS policy to prioritize election mail as "first class" adding extra stamps won't really do anything.

“Completed ballots are First-Class Mail, regardless of whether they are prepaid by election officials or mailed with a stamp affixed by the voter,” said a USPS spokesperson in an email. “The only situation where completed ballots are not First-Class Mail is where the voter opts instead to pay for a premium service like Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express.”

Q: I requested a ballot by mail, but now I want to vote in person. Can I do that?

A: Yes, but you have to pick one. If you have your mailed ballot in hand, bring it to the election authority and surrender it so they can let you vote in person. Otherwise, it might look like you're voting twice.
If you don't have the ballot you requested but want to go vote in person, the election board can check the system to confirm your vote hasn't been counted yet. They'll give you an affidavit to sign, and then a new ballot.

These are the safeguards in place to ensure voters only vote once

Q: What is the process for voting absentee?

A: In Illinois, anyone registered to vote can vote absentee.

In Missouri, one of these excuses must apply:

  1. Absence on Election Day from the jurisdiction of the election authority in which such voter is registered to vote;
  2. Incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability, including a person who is primarily responsible for the physical care of a person who is incapacitated or confined due to illness or disability;
  3. Religious belief or practice;
  4. Employment as an election authority, as a member of an election authority, or by an election authority at a location other than such voter's polling place;
  5. Incarceration, provided all qualifications for voting are retained.
  6. Certified participation in the address confidentiality program established under sections 589.660 to 589.681 because of safety concerns.
  7. For an election that occurs during the year 2020, the voter has contracted or is in an at-risk category for contracting or transmitting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (COVID-19.)

According to the Missouri Secretary of State, Missouri law defines voters who are considered at-risk for contracting or transmitting COVID-19 as those who:

  • Are 65 years of age or older;
  • Live in a long-term care facility licensed under Chapter 198, RSMo.;
  • Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
  • Have serious heart conditions;
  • Are immunocompromised;
  • Have diabetes;
  • Have chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis; or
  • Have liver disease.

You can get online and request an absentee ballot get sent to you in the mail; act fast if that's your plan, since they need to be received by election day in Missouri or returned by election day in Illinois to count. Remember, most Missouri absentee ballots will have to be notarized—so plan time for that.
In Missouri, you can also vote absentee in person at your election authority office or any satellite locations they may have open: you'll fill out an excuse form right there, and you don't have to get the ballot notarized.

Early voting vs. absentee voting: where and when it's available

Q: Can I drop off my ballot at my polling place, instead of mailing it back?

A: It depends. If it's an absentee ballot, yes—you can return the ballot in person at an authorized voting location, which would include your election authority office and possible satellite locations ahead of election day.

In Missouri, where you may need to get it notarized, you can even wait to sign the ballot in front of workers at the election office or satellite location and they'll notarize it right then and there--and drop it in the ballot box.
If it's a mail-in ballot, the new option for Missouri voters that doesn't require an excuse—that ballot must be mailed back.

Before You Leave, Check This Out