PORTLAND, Ore. — There's less than a week to go until Election Day next Tuesday, Nov. 8, although in Oregon and Washington it might be more accurate to call it the day the election ends — thanks to the states' mail-in ballot systems, voting has already been underway for more than week.
If you're registered to vote in Oregon or Washington, then you should have already received your ballot in the mail by now. If you've already turned it in, good for you! If you haven't, consider this a reminder.
How to make sure you get a ballot
First things first: You need to be registered to vote in order to receive a ballot. If you're not yet registered to vote in Oregon, then unfortunately you're too late — the deadline was two weeks ago. You can still register, but you won't receive a ballot for the current election.
If you're in Washington, you can still register all the way up until 8 p.m. on Election Day and vote in the current election, although the deadline to register online was Oct. 31. At this point you'll have to do it in person at a county elections office.
But what if you still haven't received a ballot even though you know you're registered? In that case, now is the time to check if there's been a problem.
You can look up your voter registration and track your ballot online using the Oregon Secretary of State's My Vote system or the Washington Secretary of State's VoteWA system to make sure your correct address is on file.
Most counties also have systems to check the status of your ballot, such as Ballot Trax in Multnomah County. You can also use this system once you've turned in a ballot to confirm that it's been received and accepted.
If you've lost your ballot or you find out it's been sent to the wrong place, you can contact your county elections office to request a new one. Doing so will automatically cancel your original ballot, so you don't need to worry about accidentally winding up with two ballots submitted.
How to submit your ballot
If you've already got your ballot and just haven't gotten around to submitting it yet, no worries! You've still got plenty of time, and you're in good company — only about 21% of Oregon voters had turned in their ballots as of Wednesday.
You can return your ballot by mail or in person at a drop box. Either way, the first step once you've filled it out is to seal it back up inside the return envelope that was included with your ballot. Don't forget to sign the back of the envelope — your ballot won't be accepted without a signature for validation.
Returning your ballot by mail is as easy as tossing it in a mailbox like any other outgoing mail. Oregon and Washington return envelopes are pre-paid and don't need stamps. You can also return your ballot in person at a drop box. Oregon and Washington each have online maps to look up drop-box sites near you.
Here's the most important detail: No matter how you're submitting your ballot or which state you live in, the deadline to get it turned in is 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 8. All ballots must either be sitting in a drop box or mailed and postmarked by that time in order to be counted.
In both states, ballots received by mail after the deadline will still count as long as they're postmarked before the 8 p.m. Election Day deadline. In Oregon's case they must also be received within one week after Election Day.
Mail doesn't get postmarked until it's been picked up and processed, so if you've waited until the last second to send in your ballot and it's 7 p.m. on Nov. 8, at that point you should probably be looking for a drop box rather than a mailbox.