Voting will be tricky this year. Even if you take the risk of in-person voting, COVID-19 is sure to close many polls at churches and retirement homes. Voting by mail is a great alternative—but the USPS may not be able to keep up with demand, not all states are offering this option, as a result of the pandemic, and some parts of the United States even require you notarize your ballot first.
So how do you know how to vote? NBC News has created an interactive map called Plan Your Vote, which answers all your biggest voting questions at a glance. You tap on a question such as “Can I vote in person before Election Day?” and the map shows you which states allow it, through color-coding.
“It was very obvious to us that this is one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, and part of the role of a news organization is to inform the public,” says Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital for NBC News Group. “And there is probably no bigger priority right now than having people understand how to participate in our democracy.”
The site itself is streamlined for clarity. The map greets you up top, then as you scroll down the page, the site provides all sorts of information about your state, such as a countdown of the days you have left to register to vote.
It is very much a tool—less what you might expect from a news organization such as NBC News and more of something you’d expect from a utility-builder such as Google. News organizations adore their electoral maps during an election year, but these maps usually (and often uselessly) track polls and voting results. They don’t just try to help people vote.
“[The goal was] basically, how do we get tons of information consolidated into a space . . . without getting too much in the weeds about the history of voting and why it’s so complicated,” says Anna Brand, senior editor of news projects who runs the data graphics team behind the tool. “It is a resource you may see in Google, but we’re doing it.”
Indeed, building the site took significant resources: A team of half a dozen people at NBC focused on this project for nearly two months. And that work will be ongoing for journalists tasked with the project, as voting laws are still changing daily.