Make Your Voice Heard: How to Register to Vote in the November Election
Want to do your part in shaping political outcomes in your city, state and country? There’s almost no better way to do it than to vote. Casting your ballot in an election means you’re participating in the democratic process — that you’re making a difference and sending a message about the issues that concern you and the candidates you feel best represent you.
If you haven’t participated in a presidential or federal election before, it’s essential to make sure you’re registered to vote if you want to be part of the decision-making activities that ultimately shape our lives and the state of our country. These general guidelines will help you figure out the details and steps you need to know and follow to get registered.
Are You Eligible to Vote?
Once you turn 18, you’re of legal voting age in the United States. But just as different states have varying laws about everything from doing business to getting married, they also have different rules about registering to vote. In particular, states have different deadlines for the date by which you need to be registered if you want to participate in an election. The first steps in getting registered are determining your eligibility and finding out which state-specific laws and processes you need to follow in order to register.
What’s Involved in the Registration Process?
Once you’ve determined that you’re eligible to vote in your state of residence, it’s time to get registered so you’ll be able to cast your ballot. Every state except North Dakota requires that voters are registered before an election if they want to vote. Once you’re registered to vote, you don’t need to re-register unless you change your name, move to a new state, want to declare a new affiliation with a different political party or haven’t voted in the last four years.
Which Ballot Is Right for You?
Next, it’s time to find out your options for voting in your state so you’re prepared to cast your ballot when the time comes. Some states primarily vote by mail, meaning you’re automatically mailed a ballot a certain number of days before an election and, after filling it out, you mail it back in in the provided return envelope or put it in a local ballot drop box. If this is the procedure for your state, or if voting by mail is an option for you and you choose it, it’s important to be aware of any restrictions to follow on voting day. For example, you’ll likely need your ballot to be postmarked on or before election day, or you may have to place your ballot in the drop box by a certain time on election day. Use your state’s election website to find important dates, times and drop box locations so you can plan ahead. Keep in mind, too, that states where voting by mail is automatic still typically have at least one polling location open per county on election day if you prefer to cast your vote in person.
When Do Elections Take Place?
While the presidential and other federal elections happen on the same date for everyone around the country, various state-level elections take place throughout the year where you live. Federal elections include voting for the president and vice president, the House of Representatives and some of the Senate. State and local races may appear on your ballot at this time, too. But at other times of the year, you may need to vote in special state and county elections or primaries, the dates of which depend on your location.
Participating in Elections: How Should You Get Ready?
Once you’re aware of the process and have chosen how you’ll vote, the next step is to determine where you’ll do it. Voting by mail is as easy as placing the ballot in the return envelope and setting it in your mailbox or sliding it into a local drop box, but if you plan to visit an actual polling place, it’s important to know where you need to go well before election day rolls around. This way, you can plan ahead and won’t be stressed at the last minute while trying to figure out the location or secure transportation there.