We all know that it’s imperative that we vote, but there are often questions that pop up when going through the process. That’s why we put together this Voting 101 guide. How can you check to see if you’re already registered? What if you’re away at college, or living in another country? What if you have an absentee ballot, but are now set on voting in person?
According to the Pew Research Center, a record 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2020. Our collective vote this year is larger than ever before and it matters. We have the power to determine the presidency, and other key roles, and our crucial voices can help to ensure that our leadership centers equality, fairness, and justice moving forward. If ever there was a time when every single vote desperately mattered in U.S. history, this is one of them.
It’s important to have all these questions answered so that we can go into this election confident and secure that our votes will count. So be sure to check out this handy and easy-to-use voter guide. It answers lots of questions you might have about voting in one place that you can reference time and time again. Read it, learn it, and share it with other voters!
How to Check If You’re Registered
The first thing you’ll want to do is find out if you are already registered. Even if you are, you may have to update your information if you have moved, changed your name, and/or want to change your political party affiliation. Many sites will help you find out if you’re registered, such as rockthevote.org and usa.gov.
How To Register If You’re Not
If you’re not registered, it’s easy to register yourself to vote! You can text REGISTER to 788-683 (RTVOTE), or visit votesaveamerica.com/register, or whenweallvote.org. Finally, you can check out your state election office website. According to Rock the Vote, “voter registration time takes an average of two minutes or less to complete.”
How to Request a Mail-In Ballot
Due to the coronavirus and social distancing, we will most likely see an influx of absentee voting. Other circumstances that may have you mailing in your ballot include being stationed somewhere else in the military, being away at school, living abroad, and/or injury or being physically unable to show up in person to vote. 34 states allow you to get an absentee ballot without any reason at all; you can also sign up to permanently receive mail-in ballots in some states.
Can You Vote in Person if You Have an Absentee Ballot?
It may be easier to vote by mail, but with the dismantling of many basic postal services at the hand of the Trump-appointed Postmaster General of the United States Louis DeJoy, many will naturally want to opt for in-person voting. But, can you decide to vote in person if you already signed up for or were sent an absentee ballot? More often than not, the answer is yes! Generally, the rule is that you’ll need to take your absentee ballot to your polling place and either fill it out in person and hand it in, or exchange your mail-in ballot for an in-person one. Still, it’s smart to check Vote.org for specific rules in your state.
What to Know About Absentee/Mail-In Ballots
Absentee ballots ensure that you can vote even if you can’t physically make it to a designated polling place. Every state offers absentee ballots, but only 34 allow you to get one without a stated excuse. In some states, you can permanently be placed on the mail-in voting list. You can sign up to register by mail online. Make sure to send in your absentee ballot ASAP after you get it in the mail and fill it out. These ballots can be submitted via mail or a voting dropbox, but check online for updates/changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have changed your mind and want to vote in person, take your absentee ballot to one of your designated polling places. United States citizens who were born abroad and have never lived in the U.S. may not qualify for absentee voting. You can check here according to the state the person’s parent(s) last resided.
What are Voter Cards?
A voter registration card is a card you receive in the mail once you have registered to vote, or have updated your voter information. It confirms that you are a registered voter, and shows your current name, address, and designated polling station. Normally, receipt of this card takes a couple of weeks. You don’t need to bring your voter registration card to the polling location to vote, but make sure to bring your photo ID, as some states require this form of identification.
Voting Mistakes to Avoid
Voto Latino recommends sending in your ballot by October 20 to make sure it’s not affected by the current USPS crisis. You also want to make sure that your signature matches what’s on record, as your vote may be thrown out if the signatures are too different. Fill out bubbles on the voting form darkly and completely in blue or black ink, sign your name in the correct spot on the envelope (not the ballot) and seal your ballot inside the ballot envelope provided. Don’t write anything else on the ballot itself, like circling a candidate’s name; this can make the ballot itself invalid. Also, make sure to read all the instructions, as some states require extra steps for voting, such as notarization, a witness signature, or a copy of your photo ID. Finally, don’t forget to add a stamp to the envelope!
When and Where You Can Vote Early
Early voting dates vary from state to state. For example, states like Minnesota and Pennsylvania start their early voting in mid-September, while California and Arizona are in early October. Florida, New York, and some other states don’t start their early voting until late October. You can find out when your state partakes in early voting by visiting votesaveamerica.com/states.
How to Register to Vote at College
The college years are often the time in one’s life when you become more aware of what’s happening in the world and are more inclined to make necessary changes to fight against injustice, racism, and inequality. This is the time you want to vote. But how do you vote when you are living on campus, and/or in another city and state (or country)? You can vote using an absentee ballot, in the state you plan to vote from. As Make It 100 stated, you can choose to vote my mail representing your home state, or the one you are in now. Votes in swing states will make more of a difference than in those that are mostly blue or red.
Can You Vote If You Have a Felony on Your Record?
A felony on your record doesn’t automatically make you ineligible to vote. In fact, in both Maine and Vermont, people who are incarcerated, as well as ex-felons are allowed to vote in an election. According to BritannicaProCon.com, in 19 states, voting rights are restored after someone completes their prison term, parole, and probation, while in 18 states and Washington D.C., one is eligible to vote after being released from prison. Each state is different, however. Mississippi permanently takes away voting rights for those found guilty of 22 specific felonies. while eight other states may also permanently revoke voting rights. You can visit campaignlegal.org to find out your state’s laws.
How to Register to Vote if You’re in the Armed Forces/Living Abroad
If you want to vote, but aren’t currently in the United States, you can still make your voice heard politically. All you have to do to vote is get an absentee ballot, by filling out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and sending it in by your state’s deadline. Then, send it back by the recommended deadlines: October 5, if you are on a ship at sea; October 13 if you are outside of the United States; and October 27 if you are stateside. United States citizens who were born abroad and have never lived in the U.S. may not qualify for absentee voting. You can check here according to the state the person’s parent(s) last resided.
How to Register to Vote if You’re Homeless
Everyone should have the right to vote in a democracy, whether or not they have a permanent residence. If you are homeless and want to vote, you may do so by listing a shelter address, a street corner, or a park as your home location on your voter registration form. Providing a shelter address, however, will allow you to receive pertinent voting mail.
How to Vote If You’re Hospitalized
If you are in the hospital unexpectedly and/or injured, and ran out of time to receive an absentee ballot, in most states you can get what is called an Emergency Absentee Ballot. You can visit patientvoting.com to find out what states allow for emergency absentee voting and learn more about the process.
How To Track Your Ballot After You’ve Mailed It or Voted In Person
Pretty much every state has a way to check your ballot once you’ve mailed it in. But rules differ state-by-state so you may be required to enter information like your first and last name, date of birth and sometimes your Social Security number. States have individual services for tracking your ballot, including the US Postal Service, so make sure to save the the tracking number on your ballot! States like Wyoming and Mississippi may require you to call your county clerk’s office for tracking information. This should offer some peace of mind to those on both side of aisle since the current President insists on claiming that mail-in ballots lead to more fraud even though there is not a single thread of evidence to support these claims. Just google “Track my ballot + your state” and the tools should pop up that you need to make sure your vote is counted.
Who to Contact if You Feel Your Voting Rights Have Been Violated
According to Vote.org, “Black voters are four times more likely than their white counterparts to report experiencing racial discrimination when trying to vote.” Whether it’s against the Black community, other POC, women, seniors, people in a certain location, or Democrats, there are all sorts of tricks that are used to get people to not vote, like early closing of voting stations, claiming the machines are down, and voter intimidation. If you feel like something is amiss with voting in your area, or with your personal voting experience, you can call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) and report it!