Washington, October 28: The US presidential election 2020 is being considered as the most high-stake poll battle in the world in shadow of the pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 has significantly affected the polling process in America, with nearly one-fourth of the total electorate already registering their mandate through alternative options in order to avoid the queues on November 3 where social distancing norms could possibly be violated. Mail-In Ballots Focus of US Presidential Election 2020: How to Vote by Mail? Here Are 4 Basic Steps.

Till the day when this report was published, over 65 million voters had already registered their mandate for the presidential elections. The numbers amounted to nearly 45 percent of the total polling in 2016. The amount of early voting has broken all previous records as nearly 25 percent of the registered electorate have already registered their mandate.

With a bulk of the US electorate using alternative options to cast their vote, here is an explainer on how America is voting in midst of the pandemic.

Early Voting

A total of 43 provinces in the United States allow voters to visit their designated polling booth days before the elections and drop their ballot choices. The period from when early voting is permitted differs from state to state, and does not begin 45 days before the scheduled date of elections.

The six provinces that do not allow pre-election in-person voting are: Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Also to note, that the period of early voting can, at maximum, continue till the last Friday before the elections. In this case, October 30 would be the final date till states can allow the electorate to vote early.

In-Person Voting

This refers to the polls that are held on the main day of elections - November 3 in this case - when voters queue up outside their designated polling stations and register. This is the most conventional form of voting, and the majority of American electorate votes in this manner.

The time of voting differs from state to state. The polling booths open up at the earliest in Vermont, at 5 am in the morning (local time). On an average, most polling booths open at 6 am in other states. The polling time does not exceed beyond 9 pm.

Around 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, would allow "early in-person voting" from Saturday onwards. Another five states - Alaska, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Ohio - would permit voting to begin from Sunday.

Absentee Ballots

Since the 19th century, America has allowed voters who cannot remain physically present at the polling booths on the day of polls to vote remotely. This option was extended to diplomats, soldiers, defence and police personnel. In 1997, an amendment was made to the law to also allow registered voters in the space to exercise their right to franchise using the absentee ballot. US Elections 2020: NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins Votes From International Space Station, Shares Selfie (View Pic).

The rules for issuing absentee ballots differ from state to state. Some provinces offer a relaxed set of rules even allowing the elderly or those facing medical issues to seek their absentee ballots.

In few states, however, the norms are strict and allow only those with valid reasons to avail the absentee ballots. The valid reasons include deputation on foreign missions, duty assigned by government on polling day, being infected with a disability or being lodged in jail but reserve the right to vote.

The absentee ballots, once issued to the voters via postal delivery or electronically through email, is filled by them and returned through the same medium. For instance, if someone received the absentee ballot through postal delivery, he/she should fill and mail it back at the designated address of the polling booth. In cases where a secured encrypted ballot is emailed to the voter, he/she needs to fill it digitally and mail it back.

Mail-In Ballots

Mail-in ballots are similar to absentee ballots, as they are mailed or delivered via post to the voter and he/she reverts accordingly. The difference, however, is that mail-in ballot facility is also extended to common voters who may not be eligible to seek an absentee ballot.

Earlier, five American provinces - Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii - allowed the voters to vote via mail. In these states, the ballots were automatically mailed to the registered voters ahead of the elections, allowing them to either vote remotely or visit the polling booths for in-person voting.

With the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, all American states have allowed voters to use the facility of mail-in ballots. This is considered as one of the reasons why the pre-election voting percentage has peaked to a record-level. The wide use of mail-in ballots, however, has been decried by President Donald Trump who claimed that they could be used for "rigging the elections".

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Oct 28, 2020 05:45 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).