You may be wondering how to vote in America. Perhaps you’ve just turned eighteen, just became a citizen, or some other event has sparked your civic interest in participating in the great democratic experiment. Great! The following is a short guide that will walk you through the whole process, and also discuss some options for your voting needs.
One thing to keep in mind: voting is regulated by your state, and the local laws and procedures may vary to some extent where you live. Be persistent, conscientious, and involved, and you should be able to vote in no time!
Step 1: Register
The very first thing you need to do is register to vote. You can register in some places online, through the mail, or in person. The first thing to do is to use your phonebook or computer to locate your closest election commission. These are the local officials whose job is to help register and inform voters. They are on your side and should be helpful in getting you registered. Many states nowadays require certain forms of identification so they can be sure you are who you say you are. This can be a birth certificate, driver’s license, or other state-issued ID. Find the contact information for your local commission to see what your state requires in order to register.
Once you’ve registered, you should receive your voter ID card in the mail! This is, in general, a card that identifies you and your voting precinct. A voting precinct is your local polling place, and that’s where you’ll need to go if you want to vote in person in order to cast your ballot.
Note: Males turning 18 are automatically issued a Selective Service (draft) card, and this will usually be accompanied by an invitation to register to vote. Make sure you’re registered with both the Selective Service and your local voting authority!
Step 2: Decide When to Vote
There are many elections in the United States. From city council members, mayors, to sheriffs, local representatives, congressmen, judges, and even the President of the United States, many of our representatives are elected.In many local elections, but also state and sometimes federal, there are also votes on new laws and measures that the public has a direct hand in enacting. You’ll often be informed by local activists when there’s an important election coming up, or an important ballot measure, but don’t count on anyone doing so! Also, sometimes politics can get dirty and there will be campaigns to misinform voters. Don’t be fooled! You can always get voting information from your local commission’s website and other official sources.
Step 3: Decide How to Vote
Now that you’ve registered to vote, you’ve located your polling place, and you know what issues or elections you want a say in, it’s time to vote! In the United States, there are two ways to cast your ballot: in person at your polling place, and via mail. You can apply for a mail-in ballot through your local election commission, and if you’re in an underserved or other community with a strong presence of volunteers, you may get someone at your door offering to get you registered and to give you a mail-in ballot. The very nice thing about mail-in ballots is they are completely confidential, and you can just pop them in the mailbox when you’re done. While all votes are confidential, you can vote on issues that matter to you right in the comfort of your home. Don’t forget to mail your ballot before the deadline!
If you decide to vote in person, make sure you know the date and times that your local polling place are open. Arrange for reliable transportation, and take some time to research your local issues. In many states local ballot measures and elections will be held at the same time as federal elections. Take the time to read up on the candidates and issues at hand, they represent you! When you arrive at the polling place, you may be required or requested to show a valid state-issue ID. If this is the law in your state, make sure you’ve got it ready. The people at polling places are volunteers, and they want to help you vote, so be sure to ask for help if you need it.
Step 4: Vote!
You’ve registered with your local election commission, received your voter registration card, researched the representatives and issues on the ballot, and decided to mail-in a ballot or go in person to cast your vote. Now, all that’s left is to go and do it! Depending on your locality you may vote with a touch-screen computer, a lever operated machine, or by penciling in circles on a form. Whichever way your local area votes, if you have any questions or concerns, be sure to talk to a volunteer at the polling place. They are there to help you any way they can.
Step 5: Get Involved
Congratulations! You’ve cast your vote and taken part in one of the great freedoms we as Americans sometimes take for granted. Now take the next step and go out and make sure your friends and family are also registered voters. The democracy is only as strong as the people who take the time to participate and vote, and if there’s something on your mind, vote on it!