It is common knowledge that, statistically, young people don’t vote. Whether it’s because we’re not registered, we don’t care, we don’t know how, or we need a refresher in civics (because we were too busy watching a bumblebee out of the window during Government class), people under the age of thirty-five, given the right to vote, often don’t exercise it.
So for those of you who are just now eligible, haven’t registered since the last election, have recently moved, or are lost in an existential crisis about the meaning of a vote, I give you our quick and dirty instructions on how to register to vote:
Figure out the state where you are registering
This is the state where you have your driver’s license/pay your taxes. Even if you do not live there, it is where you vote. If you’re travelling, away at school, etc., you can vote absentee (more on that later).
Look up your state’s process
Unfortunately, every state is a bit different, but it’s usually a very simple process. You need to do a quick search on your particular state’s rules, how long before the elections you need to register, and what registering requires. In nearly all states, there’s a registration deadline (and no, it’s almost never Election Day). You can check your state’s deadline on this handy list. (Note: A few lucky places do allow same-day registration or election-day registration, but it’s pretty uncommon.)
If you’re not sure if you’re registered, where you’re registered, or how you are registered (absentee, party preference, etc.), try one of the following:
- Can I Vote.org can help you find out if you’re registered and where your polling place is.
- County Registrar: Google “county registrar” with the name of your city. You should be provided with the name of your county’s “Registrar of Voters” and the website, address, and phone number of his or her’s office. Their website can help you check your registration status and/or re-register (this includes changing your address, changing your name, changing your party, or changing your vote-by-mail status). But if that gets confusing, give them a call, or take a quick drive over (they are in your county).
If you just need to register:
- See above for your County Registrar.
- State Election Board: You can also get a voter registration form from your State Election Board. You can find a complete list of all of the State Election Boards here.
- State Registrar: If your state doesn’t provide an easily accessible form, you can use this national registration form and send it to your state Registrar’s office (follow the Googling procedures above with “state registrar” and your state).
- If all this online stuff is super confusing and you just want to fill out a paper form, visit your nearest local library or post office.
On all of these websites, look for any “Register to Vote” buttons or FAQ that can help you navigate the process.
You CAN register online, but remember you still have to print out the form, sign it, and mail it to your state Registrar. Make sure you leave time to mail the form before the registration deadline!
Don’t worry, I’ll wait…
Find out if your state has early voting / Apply for an absentee ballot
Many states/counties allow you to vote up to a few weeks early to avoid the sometimes-crazy lines that amass on Election Day. Early voting is often significantly more convenient, so go ahead and see if it’s an option for you through your State Election Board.
If you are going to be out-of-state for the election, apply for an absentee ballot. Again, you can check your State Election Board’s website to find out the specifics. Just remember, this will take more time, as it requires mailing and such, so don’t wait too long. Double check if your state will allow you to drop off your ballot at a polling place on Election Day (allowing you to both procrastinate and get a super awesome “I Voted” sticker).
Find your polling place
Usually the address of your polling place will come in the mail with your voter registration card (if your state doesn’t send cards, check the back of your sample ballot, or see step #2) a few weeks after you register or a few weeks before the election.
Do your research
Once you are registered, you might receive a Voter Information Guide from your Registrar with information about the candidates as well as propositions, initiatives and referendums.
If you tend to not keep up with local news and politics, you may want to do some research on your local elections as well. Often a good place to start is your local news, as they tend to profile local candidates and run stories on them close to the election.
If you don’t get the newspaper (or it doesn’t show up in an easy Google search) and local TV news isn’t your thing, smartvoter.org is also a very useful, nonpartisan site for information on local, state, and federal elections.
We’ve reached the most important step. Don’t forget! The next election is November 6th—mark your calendar now.
Now you are all set to influence the laws of our land. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, everyone’s vote matters in the end. You can help to change the statistics. After all, you likely pay taxes and possibly student loans, you may own a home or have kids, and eventually you could decide to retire. Today’s lawmakers influence all of this and more. Do something to influence them.
Photo by Meaghan Morrison