How we contribute to our society matters. We’re not disconnected automatons; we’re deeply interconnected human beings, and the choices we make as individuals do, in fact, have an effect on the world around us.
Part of blossoming into your best, truest self is figuring out the unique ways you can contribute to making the world a little bit better for everyone. Whether it’s volunteering your time, making art, protesting or simply engaging in random acts of kindness – the possibilities are endless and it all matters.
Still, one of the most profound (and easy!) ways to contribute, particularly in a democratic society, is to vote.
Voting is a privilege and, if you are a U.S. citizen, it is your right. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around right now to dissuade people from voting here in the United States. This is called voter suppression; and it not only goes against the very core of democracy, in some cases, it’s illegal. For example, it is a federal crime to intimidate, threaten or coerce someone for the purpose of interfering with their right to vote.
Despite what you may have heard, though, voting in the upcoming election is legitimate and necessary. There are too many important issues at stake – from the COVID-19 pandemic to racial justice to climate change – to sit this one out. We need everyone exercising their right to vote this November.
However, if you’re still feeling skeptical or you just don’t know where to start, I’m here to help. For the remainder of this post, I will be covering who is eligible to vote, how to register, what your voting options are, as well as what to do if someone tries to stop you from voting.
Who Can Vote
If you are a U.S. citizen who will be 18 years or older on or before Election Day (November 3rd), and you meet your states residency requirements, you can vote. There are very few restrictions on who can vote and these restrictions vary by state. So, if you’re still unsure, check with your state’s election office here.
How to Register to Vote
Registering to vote is easy and can be done online from the comfort of your own home, if you live in one of these 39 states or Washington DC. If your state doesn’t have an online option, you can register by mail or in person. While some states do allow you to register at the polls on Election Day, your best bet for a seamless voting experience is to register in advance at least 31 days prior to the election. Regardless, you will need your driver’s license, state issued ID, or social security number to register, so be sure to have one of those on hand.
To Register Online: Use this online form via Vote.org. It only takes 2 minutes!
To Register by Mail: Print and complete the National Voter Registration Form (English), and mail it to the address listed for your state (available in 14 other languages here). This form also provides the registration deadlines for each state.
To Register In-Person: Visit your local election office. Some states also allow you to register at the DMV, your City or County Clerk’s office or at your local Secretary of State’s office. Again, check with your state’s election office if you’re unsure.
If you think you might already be registered to vote, you can check your voter registration status here.
Your Voting Options
As a registered voter, you have multiple options for casting your ballot and they are all legitimate.
Absentee (or “Vote by Mail”): Absentee voting in the U.S. has been around for over 150 years. Its first widespread use was during the presidential election of 1864. So when people try to claim that absentee voting is not legitimate, they’ve got a century and a half of evidence stacked against them.
Currently, all states offer absentee voting and, in the majority of states, you do not need an excuse. While some states automatically mail absentee ballots to everyone, others require you to apply for an absentee ballot in advance. Anyone can apply here.
The key thing to note is that absentee ballots can be returned in-person or by mail, which is good news! If you are concerned about mailing in your ballot for any reason, including getting it in on time, you always have the option to drop it off early at the location(s) listed on the ballot.
Due to the the COVID-19 pandemic, most states are adapting their rules to accommodate voters. To find out the “vote by mail” rules for your state, Vote.org offers an overview for each state, or you can visit your state’s election website for the most up-to-date information.
Early Voting: Many states offer early voting in addition to “vote by mail.” Meaning, polls will open before November 3rd, allowing voters the opportunity to cast their ballots early and avoid the lines. Again, you’ll need to check with your state to see if this is an option and to find out when and where early voting will take place.
In-Person: Last, but certainly not least, you always have the option of going to the polls on Election Day and casting your ballot in-person. Your state’s election website will have a list of polling locations. Be sure to bring a government-issued ID with you or at the very least a utility bill with your current name and address. And while it is not required, I also recommend bringing your voter registration card in case your right to vote is called into question at the polls.
The most important thing I can say about voting in person is this: stay in line! While it may be tempting to bow out of a long voting line, your vote matters. And, as long as you are already in line when the polls close, you have the right to stay and cast your vote. If you think waiting in line might be problematic for you for any reason, be sure to look into early or absentee voting.
And don’t forget that physical distancing guidelines also apply at the polls, so try to keep a 6 foot distance from others (as best as the polling location allows) and wear a mask while voting in-person.
How to Handle Voter Suppression
Sadly, certain people groups experience more discrimination and disenfranchisement at the polls than others.
- If you are a BIPOC, a voter with a disability or if English is not your primary language, it’s especially important that you know your rights before you head to the polls. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides a helpful guide to your voting rights here.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality offers an excellent “Voting While Trans” Checklist to help prepare transgender voters before and on Election Day. Non-binary voters may also find this checklist helpful.
- If you are homeless or experiencing a housing transition, you too have the right to vote. Information on how to register to vote as a homeless citizen is available here.
- Individuals who have prior felony convictions may also be able to vote. Visit Restore Your Vote to find out if you are eligible to register.
Remember, voting is your right as a U.S. citizen. If someone tries to stop you from voting on or before Election Day, you can do any or all of the following:
Democracy works best when everyone votes, so do your part: register, vote early, if possible, and never give up hope that a brighter future is just one vote away.
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