The 2020 election is just around the corner and it’s pretty much all anyone can talk, tweet, or post about. And with good reason, the importance of this election cannot be emphasized enough. Everything from the future of our planet to reproductive rights hangs in the balance, so you’re going to want to make sure your voice is heard. Whether this is your first time voting in an election or you’re a seasoned pro, the specifics on how to vote can be confusing, especially since COVID has made things more difficult this time around. Because of that, it’s so important you make a voting plan and cast your ballot on or before November 3rd. So, to clear some things up and to make your voting experience as seamless as possible, check out what you need to know as a first time voter, including how to register to vote, how to vote, and everything in between.
Register to Vote
In order to vote, not only do you need to be a US citizen of least 18 years of age, but you also need to be registered. The first step in this process is deciding where you want to register to vote. Your vote will get counted in whatever state you register in and, most likely, you will register in your home state.
If you are currently not living in your home state, say for college, you can still register there and get an absentee ballot to send in by mail. You may have the option to register in the state you’re currently going to college in, though, if you choose to do so. Just check the registration rules for whatever state you’re going to college in. Again, they vary, but many states will allow you to register there if you’ve been living in the state for at least 30 days before the election. Meaning, if you’re from Connecticut, but you’re currently living and attending college in Illinois, you may be able to register in Illinois.
Once you know the state you’re registering in, make sure you are away of any cut off dates, which vary by state. For example, in New York, you have to register by October 9th in order to vote. Don’t worry, though, because there are a ton of resources online to answer all of your state-specific registration questions.
Then, look into how you can register. Some states make you do it by mail, while some will allow you to do it online. You can also head to your DMV and do it there (unless you live in Wyoming, they’re the one exception). Make sure you find out your state’s registration requirements so you know you’re following guidelines. Tip: if you’re planning to register by mail, do it now! You want to make sure you have ample time to get everything in before any deadlines.
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Inform Yourself on the Issues
This one is important. Yes, maybe you’ve heard your parents talk politics or your friends share their opinions on the issues, and you should definitely hear what they have to say. Still, it’s important to form your own opinion so that you can be an informed voter when you cast your ballot. You can read the news and see what people are saying online, but in order to get an unbiased view, I suggest heading over to the candidates’ websites. Many of them will lay out their stance on important issues so you can do your own research.
And I’m not just talking the presidential election (though that’s extremely important). There are also state and local elections that you can vote on as well. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as 35 out of the 100 Senate seats are being contested, so while you may know who you want to see in the White House come January, you may need to do a little more research when it comes to the other choices.
Make a Voting Plan
OK, so you’re registered and you know who you’re voting for. What’s next? Get your voting plan squared away. Make sure you know the location of your polling place ahead of time. Again, there are many resources online to help you figure that out. Plus, some states require you to bring identification when you go to vote. So make sure you know what you have to bring with you the day of. Also, give yourself a good amount of time to vote. Because of COVID and social distancing requirements, lines could be a little longer at your voting site on Election Day. So, be prepared to wait. It’s worth it.
Voting by mail? Make sure you get your absentee ballot squared away way ahead of time. I’m talking like do that right now! You’ll have to request an absentee ballot from your state, so, again, make sure you note the deadlines associated with that, because they often fall before Election Day.
Feeling completely prepared for Election Day? Congrats! But your work is not over. Now, lend a hand and help out someone who might be confused by this whole process (no shade to them, this stuff is not easy). Maybe it’s your friend who isn’t registered yet, or your grandma who can’t figure out how to request an absentee ballot. Chances are, someone needs your help.
Plus, there are many opportunities to get involved in the community. The Poll Hero Project is currently looking for teens to work the polls in their own communities and get this, you’ll get paid. Usually, poll workers are on the older side, but because of COVID many of the poll regulars aren’t able to show up this year, so your local polling site probably needs you now more than ever.
You may be ready to vote, but our work is not done until the whole country gets to have a say in our future.
Written by Carolyn Twersky