A New Voter’s Guide to Election Day

Last week, I did a TikTok directed at younger voters encouraging them to reward Democrats at the midterms for passing two of their top priorities when Biden entered office (student loan relief and expunging marijuana convictions.) And among the many comments I received on that post, I got a few asking for help understanding what voting looks like.

So, while I know most of you who read this blog are very likely to be regular voters, I’m putting this post together in the hopes that you will share it with the young people in your life who may be voting for the first time in November, or sharing it with others who might want to know.

1. Get Registered

With the exception of North Dakota, every state requires that you register to vote before you cast a vote. Every state has their own rules for how many days before an election you need to be registered, so don’t wait to do this step! Head over to IWillVote.com to get registered, or double check that you’re registered at your current address.

2. Determine When You’ll Vote

Do you want to vote early, or do you want to vote on Election Day?

If you want to vote early, check on what your state will allow (they might send you an absentee ballot to fill out and turn in, or you could potentially cast a ballot at a county election office.) Vote 411 is a handy resource to determine what your options are for your state.

If you want to vote in person on Election Day, then all you need to know is where your local polling place is. It is important you show up to the correct location, as that will be the only place that has your name on their voter registration list. Go to Vote 411, choose your state, and enter your address to learn where your polling place is.

3. Get Ready

You’ll want to take a little time before you vote to go through what all is on your ballot. Some states send out voter guides that detail all the candidates who are running for the various races as well as any measures that may be on your ballot. You might be voting for a constitutional measure to codify or ban abortion, or whether your local schools can get additional funding, etc.

If your state doesn’t provide a voter guide, check with local organizations to get their lists of endorsements. Newspapers will often have endorsements, or you can check in with your local Democratic party office, or a social organization (say, that deals with reproductive rights or climate change) for their endorsements.

There will likely be candidates running for local offices where there is no party affiliation listed. In those cases, just Googling their names will likely help you make a smart decision. When it comes to researching judges, check out my guide, How To Avoid Electing Terrible Judges for a bunch of ideas to figure out if they align with your values or not.

And remember, voting is not a test — feel free to bring your notes with you when you vote.

4. Time To Vote!

On Election Day, you’ll head to your designated polling place.

Don’t wear any clothing, stickers, or pins that advocate for a particular candidate or how to vote. You could be turned away. Come back when you have non-political clothing on. (Why is this the rule? There can be no intimidation at the polls. More on this later.)

Many states require that you show ID at the polls. Check what kind of ID you’ll need by going to Vote 411, choose your state, and scroll down to ID Needed For Voting.

Go to the check in desk, where local volunteers will check your name and ID against their list of registered voters. Once they check you in, they’ll either give you a paper ballot to fill out or direct you to one of the voting machines in a privacy booth. If you have any questions, ask. Poll workers are there to help you.

Your experience voting at your local polling place is very likely to be pleasant and easy. Poll workers are often local volunteers who love to help citizens fulfill one of their most important civic duties.

But, on the off chance that something goes wrong, I want to be sure you know what to do. First, if you believe you are at the correct polling location and are certain you are registered, but the poll worker says you aren’t, ask for a provisional ballot. Essentially, you’ll be filling out a ballot but will need to work with your county to clear up your eligibility in order to make sure your vote counts.

Second, if the poll workers are unhelpful or intimidating or otherwise are causing problems, call (866) OUR-VOTE. When you call, you’ll be connected to a staff person (usually a lawyer) who knows elections laws inside and out. They will help you, and call any other authorities as needed in that moment.

Again, you probably won’t have any issues and voting will be a breeze. Once you’ve completed your ballot, you’re done! As a first time voter, you might be tempted to take a selfie with your ballot, but don’t do that. Most states don’t allow it. But, by all means, take a selfie with your I Voted! sticker and post that pic all over social media. Research shows that seeing friends and family voting boosts turnout!

5. Track What Happens

If you voted early or with a provisional ballot, I encourage you to track to make sure your vote counted. Once you’ve voted, you can track your ballot by going to THIS SITE, finding your state, and following the instructions.

After that, there are lots of ways to see if the candidates and measures you voted for won or lost. Big races like for governor, Congress, etc. will usually be covered by the big news stations on TV and on social media. But for the results of your local races, your local newspaper is your best bet. Just google your state or city and “election results.”

Thank you for voting and making our democracy stronger!

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  1. Thank you for these guidelines, they are so helpful <3

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