When it’s first explained to you as a child, voting seems like a pretty simple idea. Then you learn about things like voter registration, ID laws, and the Electoral College, and it starts to seem much more complicated than you were led to believe. Yet, if you can wade through all of that, we promise that once you cast your ballot, it will have felt like a pretty simple task.
Though, in a year when the presidential election seems especially consequential and misinformation is rife on social media, it’s best to make sure all your voting bases are covered. Here, a quick checklist to make sure you’re more than prepared for election day come November 3rd.
1 . Find Your Local Elections Department’s Website
When in doubt about anything when it comes to voting properly, your state and local elections departments can be your best friend. Like we said, the particulars of voting in this country vary state-by-state and county-by-county. While all the websites may not be created equal, all should offer information and resources particular to your locality. You can find your local elections department here, and your state department here.
2. Check Your Registration Status (and Register If You Haven’t and Still Can)
It’s never a bad idea to check to ensure that you’re registered and ready to vote (you can check here, or go to your local election department website). Also take note of your polling place. If you’re not already registered, while the deadline has passed in some states, you can still register in many. Find more information here.
3. Find Out What You’re Actually Voting On (Besides the President, Of Course)
If you live in an area that has been granted statehood, you’ll be voting for president and your representative in the House of Representatives. About one-third of federal Senate seats are also up for election. There will almost certainly be more on your ballot—but that all depends on your local election calendar. Many Americans will also be voting for their governors, state legislatures, and mayors. You might also be asked to weigh in on everything from referendums and state constitutional amendments to the makeup of your local community development district board. It can be overwhelming, especially for first-time voters, but luckily, you can prepare.
- Find your sample ballot: on your local elections department website. The Ballotpedia website can also pull in a sample ballot based on your address and provide more information on the candidates and issues (though it’s not always exhaustive, and it’s best to cross-reference with your official sample ballot).
- The Know Your Vote website is a handy tool that identifies federal, state, and local candidates based on issues that are important to you.
- Read your local news: Local journalism can always use your support, but you certainly need their support when deciding on state and local issues. Yes, we’re suggesting you read your local newspaper. Often, the editorial board will offer an exhaustive list of endorsements on everything on your ballot. Though we don’t necessarily endorse taking their suggestions blindly, it can be a handy reference. Also seek out alternative outlets in your area, like alt weeklies, community newspapers, and digital journalism outlets.
- Check endorsements: The state and local chapters of your political party will almost certainly provide suggestions, but it’s also worth looking for issues-based groups and nonprofits in your area that make endorsements as well.
4. Decide How You’ll Vote
Ever since the debacle of the Florida recount in 2000, many states have enacted more voting options to Americans (and despite what you may have heard, there is very little fraud). The exact options available to you depend on your state. Find a brief rundown here.
Essentially, your options fall into two categories: 1) voting by mail 2) voting in person, whether early or on election day.
If You’re Voting by Mail
- Request your ballot from your local elections department.
- Make sure to follow all rules when it comes to properly filling out and returning your ballot:
- Make sure to sign it correctly with your usual signature.
- Many states, most notably Pennsylvania, have rules about how to properly enclose your ballot in the envelope (really!). Make sure you follow them.
- While the USPS says it will deliver any ballot that enters its stream regardless of postage, if required, it’s a good idea to attach the proper amount of stamps (though, many states include pre-paid envelopes).
- Send it in as early as possible if you’re putting it in the mail.
- Deliver it to a designated drop-off box or directly to an elections department office if you want extra security. If you’ve waited until election day to return the ballot, this is your safest option.
- Track Your Ballot: 47 states now have online portals that allow you to make sure your ballot was received and counted. Google should help turn the site up, though you can check here for more information.
If You’re Voting in Person
- Find your correct polling place: This seems obvious, but it’s always best to double check. Also note: your polling place options will likely be different depending on whether your vote early or vote on election day.
- Bring proper ID: In some states you don’t need to bring any identification, while in others they have strict rules. Find a state-by-state guide here.
- Make sure to fill out your ballot correctly: If you’re given a paper ballot, make sure to fill it out correctly as per the instructions provided. In many cases that means filling in a bubble all the way like it was an SAT scantron.
- Don’t wear clothing with political messages to the polling place. It’s illegal in many states.
- Don’t take a selfie of your ballot. Again, the laws vary by state-by-state, bu the safest Instagram flex is just to collect your “I Voted” sticker and take your selfie elsewhere.
- Show up on time: Remember, if you’re in line before voting hours close, you’ll be able to vote. (If you’re even one minute late, you might be out of luck.)
5. If You Really Want to Go the Extra Mile For Democracy
- Become a poll worker: In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, elections departments are in need of poll workers more than ever, particularly those who aren’t in the most at-risk youths. Use this tool to find information on how to sign up in your jurisdiction.
- Join a text bank for the candidates and issues you believe in:
- Offer rides to the polls: Several organizations including Carpool Vote and Vote Riders connect drivers with those who need rides to their polling places.
- Help feed poll workers and those waiting in line: Volunteers at polling sites are in for a long day of working, and unfortunately it’s not uncommon for some precincts to accrue long lines of citizens waiting to cast their ballot. This year, there are several initiatives to help provide food for those just trying to do their best for democracy. One nationwide organization, Feed the Polls, is currently looking for donations, partner restaurants, and volunteers.
6. Oh, and Make Sure You Talk to Your Friends and Family
Many of us may be sick of discussing politics online, but now is the time to check in with your friends and family to make sure they, too, are registered and prepared to vote. You can donate tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns, text bank for hours on end, and post to your heart’s content on Twitter and Facebook, but none of that may be nearly as effective as making sure a few people close to you are ready and registered.