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I want to vote this November. What do I need to do?
September is National Voter Registration Month! Now that you’ve educated yourself on the issues that concern you and where each candidate stands on those issues, it’s time to take the next step. If you want to have your voice heard and cast your votes in November’s election, and if you have never voted, have not voted in many years, or changed your name or address since the last time you voted, you need to register.
What’s more, you need to do it soon. Each state has its own laws governing voter registration, but one thing most all states have is a registration deadline—with just a few exceptions you cannot register on Election Day. Many states require registration no later than 30 days before the election, so you need to research the regulations in your state of residence. For certain people, including some college students and members of the military, the state you are living in may not be one in which you are eligible to vote.
How do I know I am eligible to vote?
Regulations vary by state, but generally, if you are 18 years of age or older, have been residing in your state for 30 days or longer, and are a United States Citizen who is not currently incarcerated or on parole, you are eligible to vote. The office of the Secretary of State is responsible for running and governing the electoral process in each state, so contact the Secretary of State’s office in your state if you have any questions or concerns about your eligibility. You may visit the National Association of Secretaries of State website at www.nass.org for state-specific information and links to your state.
Where do I go to register?
You have lots of options! Depending on your local government’s structure, you will be able to register in person at your city or town hall, or your county’s department of elections. According to the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “Motor Voter Act,” there are several additional options. You may register at your local Division of Motor Vehicles at the same time you renew or obtain a driver’s license, you may register at any state office that provides public assistance or services, and you may even register to vote by mail. One final option is to fill out the National Mail Voter Registration Form. In 2004, the Federal Elections Commission created the Elections Assistance Commission and charged the new group with creating a registration form that would serve all 50 states. It is a simple form that you can fill out and send to your local election office. The form, along with mailing instructions, may be downloaded at www.eac.gov. It is not important HOW you register, just THAT you register—and in plenty of time to make your state’s deadline, whatever it is!
What if there is a problem with my registration?
So you (think) you’ve successfully registered and located your polling place, you arrive the day of the election, present your identification (if required), and you are told that there is something wrong with your registration. What’s going on? One of four things may have happened. Despite your best intentions, you may have failed to register. The name on your identification may not match the one on the electoral roll. You may have forgotten your identification, or less likely, you may be on record as having voted already! But don’t worry—according to the Help America Vote Act of 2002, you may cast what is called a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots remain uncounted until the voter provides the missing or incorrect information to the board of elections—usually within a week to 10 days following the election. Poll staff in each state will be able to provide you with specific instructions if you find yourself in this position.
So register early, educate yourself, and let your voice be heard!