Everything You Need To Know About Voting In The 2020 Election

September 24, 2019

The 2020 United States Presidential Election might be a ways off, but it’s already picking up speed. Soon election coverage will really amp up and every news station, Twitter feed, and long-forgotten Facebook friend will be talking about who should be president.

But let’s backtrack for a second. While the question of who should be president is certainly preying on everyone’s mind, sometimes the most important questions (like when, where, and how to vote) get tossed to the wayside. For instance, do you need to register to vote every election? And after you’re registered, do you have what you need to vote?

It seems like it should be easy, but the voting process can often feel like an insurmountable hurdle. Polling places change last minute, there are tons of days to remember, and the ballot itself can be confusing. And between all the different regulations that are in place, it can be hard to tell even who can vote in US elections.

But we promise it’s not as hard as it looks. And you should feel proud that you’re participating in this crucial step in the democratic process. Whether you just turned 18 and are voting for the first time, or you just want a quick refresher on voting rules and regulations, we’re here to help you completely understand how to vote.

We made a comprehensive guideline to cover any questions you might have about the current voting process, how to stay informed with all the white noise, and how you can help others. George Washington has never been more proud. (Probably.)

Can I Vote?

Who is allowed to vote in a federal election?

1. Are you 18?

2. Are you a U.S. citizen?

3. Is your primary residence in the U.S.?

4. Are you registered to vote?

Hooray, you’re in luck!

Those are the only four requirements for voting in U.S. elections. Pretty simple, right? The legal voting age across the U.S. is 18, but registration rules vary from state to state. Some states let you register before your big birthday, while others make you wait until the day.

Which one applies to you? You can check your individual state’s guidelines here. While the requirements are fairly straightforward, there are a few more steps you can take to make sure you’re registered to vote.

Check if you’re registered to vote.

If it’s your first time being eligible to vote in new elections, you MUST officially register. If this isn’t your first time voting, double check that you’re still registered to vote.

Why? Because if polling places change, or you haven’t voted in a while, your state may have dropped your registration status.

Did you move at all in the last four years?

If you have changed addresses, you have to update your permanent address. The most crucial step to remember is that if you changed states, you must re-register in your new state.

If you haven’t moved and have remained an active voter, chances are you’ll be fine–but it takes no time at all to double check. You can follow this link here to make sure you are registered to vote at the correct address.

If You Need To Make Changes To Your Registration

If you find that you need to make changes to your voting registration, you can make the necessary adjustments to your address or personal information. The easiest option is to make the changes online, which is available is every state that has online voter registration (currently 38 states).

If your state doesn’t have the online option (annoying, we know), you can make changes by mail or by contacting your state or local election office by phone.

Register To Vote

Online

Registering to vote isn’t as complicated as it may seem, and in reality it will only take a couple of minutes. Currently 38 out of 50 states, and the District Of Columbia allow online voting registration.

If you still have to register, check if your state is active online and go to Vote.gov to get started. Pro tip: If you are registering for the first time, it can be helpful to have an adult or friend who has done it already with you to help answer any questions (just in case).

By Mail

But what if your state doesn’t have online registration? We know it might be tempting, but please don’t give up! To get started, download the National Mail Voter Registration Form. Depending on your preference, you can fill out the form on the screen and print out the completed version, or print a blank option and fill in it by hand before mailing it in.

In Person

In-person registration is available at several locations in every state. Each state has a statewide and local election office. There are also different government facilities that often offer in-person registration including the Department of Motor Vehicles, recruitment centers for the Armed Forces, and public assistance offices like SNAP and WIC.

If you are a college student, your campus may also offer in-person registration. Make sure you double check the address and verify that they provide registration forms before leaving your house. Nothing like a day at the DMV for nothing.

Overseas

What happens if you won’t be in the country on election day? (Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, by the way!) No to worry.

Thanks to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, you can vote via absentee ballot if you are living outside the U.S., are a service member stationed overseas, or are the spouse or family of a service member stationed overseas.

Language Barriers

The National Mail Voter Registration Form isn’t exclusively for English speakers. Since the U.S. is comprised of people from all around the world, the form is available in 14 other languages including: Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

There are also voter guides to help answer any questions.

Voter Deadlines

The rule of thumb for voting, not only in the presidential election, but any election is early, early, early.

Plus, the earlier your register, the more elections in which you will be able to exercise your freedom to vote– and the sooner you can start making a difference in the future of the country. Pretty cool, right?

Every state (expect North Dakota) requires citizens to register if you want to become a voter.

So yes, anyone can vote, as long as they register. Seem like we’re belaboring the point? That’s because it matters, and these deadlines can be tricky.

Some states’ deadlines are as much as a month before a given election. To check where your state falls, check the U.S. Vote Foundation. You can also check state and territory election offices for deadline information.

Again, just be an overachiever and register early. When voting time rolls around, you’ll be happy you did.

Voting Rules And Steps

For the most part, the basic steps to vote are the same is most states.

According to Article I and Article II of the Constitution, both federal and state elections are run by the states themselves. That means that no two states hold their elections the same way. The best way to find out any specifics for where you live is to contact your state or local election office. A few things to keep in mind though:

  1. Every state (sans good ole’ North Dakota) requires your to register to vote.
  2. Every state has absentee voting. (More on that in a minute.)
  3. Almost all states will assign you a specific polling place/voting location. Laymen’s terms: If you don’t go to the right polling center, you won’t be able to vote.

Another good rule of thumb is to check this handy guide for a state-by-state breakdown of what each state allows voting-wise.

Absentee and Early Voting

This is a great option if you can’t take off work, leave school, or have other obligations.

We get that taking time out of your busy day to go vote may sound stressful, so check if you qualify for early voting, or can vote via absentee ballot. The ballot will allow you to vote by mail ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it. There’s only one catch.

You guessed it, it varies by state.

Getting your absentee or early voting ballot may be an extra step in the voting process, but will save you time later. To check if your state allows absentee voting, or what the guidelines are, check the “Absentee” or “Voting By Mail” section of your state rules.

Some states require a valid reason to vote this way. Most allow absentee voting if you are unable to make it to the polling center due to injury or illness, will be traveling or on business, or are a student at an out-of-state college. This table shows which states require an excuse for early voting.

If you are military or an overseas voter, you can vote via absentee in every state.

If you’re a military member requesting a ballot, use the Federal Post Card Application. Remember you must know your voting residence for this.

If you are a U.S. citizen but live abroad, your voting residence is the address in the last state you resided. This still counts even if you don’t own the property, live there, or don’t know when you’ll be returning to the United States.

Make sure when voting, you account for mail time and fill out your ballot. It must be submitted by your state’s deadline. Worst case scenario you miss the cutoff, which means you now get to use this Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.

Early Voting Periods

Keep an eye out.

Early voting is another option that allows voters to go to election official’s offices or satellite voting locations to vote. The upside to this method is that you aren’t required to provide an excuse for not being able to vote on election day.

Some states allow voters to drop off absentee ballots in person on these days, too. Make sure you check the early voting chart for time frames and deadlines of states with early voting.

Voting In-Person On Election Day

Voter ID Requirements

About two-thirds of states expect your to bring some form of ID to vote at the polls. Our honest advice: bring it regardless. Chances are you already have your driver’s license on you.

Some states don’t require a photo ID, and some are stricter than other about the protocol when an ID isn’t valid or is forgotten. Acceptable photo IDs include: driver licenses, state-issued cards, and passports. A lot of states also offer free voter photo ID cards if you don’t have another option.

Non-photo IDs include: birth certificates, social security cards, and bank statements. Again, it changes state to state, but it never hurts to bring multiple forms of ID with you just to be safe.

Name and Address Mismatching

If your address or name on your ID doesn’t match the voter registration, you may have to cast a provisional ballot. It can happen more often than you might think; getting married, changing your last name, or moving all come into play.

So, make sure to update your voter registration as soon as you move.

ID Rules For First Time Voters

According to federal law, new voters must show ID before voting. Again, bringing in multiple options can’t hurt. Trust us, it will be way way better than having to turn around and drive home.

Election Day Is Finally Here

We couldn’t be more excited.

Call us nerds, but we absolutely LOVE voting. It feels so grownup, you make a difference in your country, and you’re suddenly nostalgic for all of those School House Rock videos your watched as a kid.

To vote, you’ll need to find your local polling station. They are broken down by residential address. (And usually located really close your neighborhood.)

Polling places can change from election to election, so be sure to double check the location beforehand. Also check your states guidelines on time off. Over 30 states legally require your job to give you two hours to go vote. Paid.

The ballot might seem intimidating.

Ballots are usually long, written in small font, and a bit hard to understand. Our best advice is to not only familiarize your self with the candidates and ballot measures beforehand, but to go over a sample ballot.

Sample ballots are exact copies of the election day ballot and will have all of the races, candidates, and local measures up for vote. Download one online, or have one mailed to you. Pour yourself a drink (tea, wine, something strong, we won’t judge) and take some time going over it so when election day rolls around, you know exactly where your star pick is.

Accessibility at polling places are a legal right.

Federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) protect voters with disabilities and guarantee the right to vote in private, have an accessible polling place with special voting machines, and provide assistance when needed.

If you have a disability, you are allowed to bring someone to help your vote, or vote from the comfort of your own home.

Prepping For The Election: The Nitty Gritty

Deciding who to vote for is no simple task.

Voting is much more than just showing up on election day. The election cycle spans years because it is very involved, and ideally, is built so that voters will pick the best candidate.

We know that the constant stream of election coverage can be overwhelming (trust us, we really get it), but it’s important to stay informed. And that can mean different things for different people. Here are a few quick tips on the election itself.

Political Parties

There are over 32 distinct ballot qualified political parties. Don’t worry, though–most don’t have the backing to become ballot official, so you won’t have an obscene amount of candidates to study.

In order to get on the ballot, parties must petition and meet state requirements. The two biggest parties are the Democratic and Republican party, and one of each will be a part of the final race in any presidential election.

The other three parties that are recognized by multiple states are the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties.

Primary Elections

A main area where other parties come into play and gain more exposure and support is primary elections.

Primary elections allow people who want to campaign for the presidency to run against people in their own party. It helps each state to choose the candidate the represent the political party as a whole

How does this affect voting?

When registering to vote, you are not required to affiliate yourself with a political party, and come the general election you can vote for your presidential candidate of choice. However, if you want to vote in primary elections, you must register with a political party.

After registering, you will be allowed to vote in that party’s primary election. This can be a big point of contention among people who identify as Independent or are split along party lines.

Tips for staying informed

Naturally, different issues resonate with different people on levels of importance. If this is your first time voting, we suggest really breaking down the ideals and laws that are most important to you and finding a candidate that aligns most closely.

Look at the strengths and weaknesses of each person running and research their positions. Also, keep in mind that there will likely be distortions of information and opinions from them, the news, and those around you.

If you’re still not sure, this quiz from the Pew Research Center can give you an idea of your political leanings and which candidates to research.

Watch the debates.

If the news isn’t your thing or feels like too much, try to take some time and watch the presidential debates. It’s a great way to see where they stand and how each candidate handles themselves under pressure.

Another great way to get informed is to look up their voting history. Each vote they passed and on what bills is public information, as well as what they accomplished while in office. Despite what each person running says, keep in mind that facts don’t lie.

Keep Track Of It All

Keep a calendar.

While some dates are still fluid, most dates around the election are set in stone. Set reminders on your phone to remember to register to vote, watch the debates, and show up to the polls.

There are also great interactive calendars online that are being updated when changes are made.

Make it social.

Election time can be fun! There’s a buzz and fervor around what’s going on, and people tend to be more open to discussing political and social issues. Despite some potentially awkward talks with family members, these conversations can really impact major change.

Get involved with your friends and have your own political party. (Hah, see what we did there?) Have a debate watch party, or go over your ballots together. We suggest going to vote with your friends then grabbing a celebratory brunch after.

The election can be as fun as you make it. Also, the more people involved, the more impact it will have.

Voting Rights Organizations

If you want to take it a step further, start helping in a big way. Voter suppression was a huge issue in the 2018 mid-term elections. Several organizations are working hard to ensure equal voting rights for every person in the country.

Find a cause you care about and volunteer, or call your local representative and tell them to support these important organizations.

Election protection.

We know that we just tossed a lot of info at you. And seriously, big kuddos for getting here. Here’s one last thing to remember, and it’s important.

If election day rolls around and you have any questions, or see any issues at the polls, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

That’s 1-866-687-8683

They are there to help, and will report and alert the necessary lawyers to ensure that everyone’s right to vote is being protected.

Happy voting!