Everything You Need to Know About How to Vote
In just a few short weeks, the polls will open for the midterm elections and the 2018 midterms are vitally important to the future of this country. It’s important for every American to be engaged in the political process, but sometimes engaging in that process can be a confusing process. If you want to get involved, but you’re not sure how, here’s a simple guide to everything you need to know about how to vote in the 2018 midterms.
When are the 2018 midterm elections?
The first and most vital piece of information you need if you want to vote is when the elections are happening. Answer: Tuesday, November, 6.
How can I vote in the 2018 midterms?
When you think of voting, you probably think of long lines and voter booths at a local polling place. You can, of course, vote in-person on November 6th, but there are other options when it comes to how to vote. You can vote early in some states and you can also vote by mail—a process also known as submitting an absentee ballot.
What’s an absentee ballot?
An absentee ballot is a vote-by-mail ballot. It’s sometimes called an absentee ballot because it’s absolutely necessary if you’re going to be traveling out of your home state during the election (this includes college students who study out-of-state). Even though the name implies that they’re only for people who will be physically absent on election day, that’s not necessarily the case. Absentee ballots are also a great option for people who are busy, work odd hours, have a lot of responsibilities at home, or have any reason at all that might make it difficult to get to the polls.
Absentee ballots are also great if you’re forgetful or lazy or flaky or spacy—the ballot comes to you, you have time to research the candidates and vote thoughtfully, and you can drop it in the mail or turn it in in-person on election day, if you prefer. Every state has different rules about the deadline to request an absentee ballot and the deadline for turning them in and some require you to provide an “excuse” when you apply for your absentee ballot to justify your request. Check this site for a list of the guidelines by state.
Can I vote early in the 2018 midterms?
Most states do offer a way for citizens to vote early, whether it’s by submitting an early ballot in person or through by-mail voting. Since every state has its own rules and requirements when it comes to early voting, you do have to check to see how the process works in your state. To make the process as easy as possible, however, here is a complete list of how each state handles early voting.
What do I need to do to be eligible to vote?
Before you head to the polls (or request your absentee ballot or take whatever steps are required in your state to vote early), you need to make sure you’ve done everything required to actually vote:
You must be registered to vote:
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to check ahead of election day to make sure you’re actually registered to vote. Visit vote.org to find out if you’re registered and to find out how to register if you aren’t already. Some states automatically register you to vote and others don’t. Some states also have special rules about registering to vote, like rules about how long you have to have lived in that state to register to vote there.
Find your polling location: Check this website if you’re not sure where to go to vote. Don’t make an assumption about where you’re designated voting location is; triple check it to make sure and do this before election day. When you’re stressed and under pressure to make time to get to the polls, a mix-up about where you have to go to vote can become the difference between following through on your plan to vote and, well, not.
Plan enough time to vote: If you’re like many Americans, you’ll probably try to fit voting in before or after work or on your lunch break. Lines can be long during these peak times though, so plan accordingly. If you don’t think you’ll have time to vote in person, seriously consider voting by mail.
Make sure you have what you need to vote: Don’t show up to the polls empty-handed. Federal law requires ID to vote and some states have additional voter ID laws. Some states also require ID for absentee votes. Make sure you’re aware of the documents your state requires voters to bring to the polls and set them aside before election day so you aren’t scrambling to find a necessary document at the last minute.
Where can I learn about the 2018 midterms candidates?
You can research your local candidates on their respective websites, of course, but that can be time-consuming and cumbersome. Most local newspapers publish voter guides that explain where candidates stand on key issues, which can help you review everything you need to know about everyone from national Congressional candidates to local races for smaller but still very important positions like judgeships.
Can I campaign for my favorite candidate at the polls on election day?
If you feel really invested in a particular candidate, you might want to keep getting the word out about them right up until the polls close to make sure as many people as possible learn why they’re the person for the job. If you plan to spend election day helping to get out the vote and advocating for the candidates you support, that’s great, but you have to be mindful of electioneering laws, which dictate how far anyone campaigning for a candidate must be from a polling place. Here’s a list of these laws by state.
Can I get reminders about when it’s time to vote?
It’s impossible to escape mentions of the midterms and to forget they’re coming up—but what about off-year elections? The wheels of democracy don’t stop turning in odd-numbered years, after all. If you want to make sure you stay on top of elections in these so-called “off-years,” you can set election reminders for yourself or have vote.org remind you for free here.
Kayleigh Roberts is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, and Allure, among others.