To say there is a lot at stake in this year’s midterm elections is an understatement. From immigration to healthcare to gun control, the leaders we elect in the next election have the power to both determine or deter policies that can shape the future of this country.
But those policies can only be as good as the leaders we elect to enact them. This is why people all across the country including survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, FL and other March For Our Lives activists have made voter registration a key tenant of their advocacy work.
They have good reason for their efforts. Research suggests that if you vote in the first few elections in which you are eligible you are more likely to be a lifelong voter. Historically, voter turnout among young people has been low particularly in midterm elections. A NBC news poll found that only 12% of millennials voted in the 2014 midterm election.
This year could change that. Midterm elections are November 6 and many states have primaries long before then. With more than 500 women currently running for the House, Senate, or governorships and many more for statewide offices, this is a time for women to make their voices heard not only in protests but at the ballot box.
Every state except North Dakota requires you to register before voting in an election. The process of registering to vote can be a confusing one so we decided to break it down for you. While this doesn’t account for every circumstance it does attempt to answer some of the basic questions about registering to vote.
Are you eligible to vote?
In order to vote in the United States you must be a citizen. You must also be a resident of the state in which you wish to vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 26 states require that you be a resident of the state from anywhere between 10 and 30 days. The remaining 24 states do not have durational residency requirements. Note that you can be homeless and still meet these requirements. You can find a full list or residency requirements in each state here.
You might have heard that you need to be 18 years of age or older in order to vote. This is true but as with many laws there are some important exceptions and caveats. Some states allow pre-registration if you are not yet 18. This is a good way to insure you are registered to vote already when the time comes for you to cast your first ballot. Research has shown 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to develop that habit of voting than 18-year-olds, who are often moving away from home to attend college or start work.
According to the organization Fair Vote, 17 states allow 17-year-olds to vote in a Congressional primary election if they will be 18 by the date of the general election. Thirteen states — California, Colorado, Delaware,, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington, and the District of Columbia — permit pre-registration beginning at 16 years old. Four states — Maine, Nevada New Jersey and West Virginia —permit pre-registration beginning at 17 years old. You can find a full list of the age requirements in each state here.
The next thing you’ll need is a valid form of identification. Voter ID laws remain one of the most widely talked about and often contested aspects of voter registration. Historically, strict voter ID laws have been used as a way to suppress voter turnout particularly among Black and other minority voters.
Seventeen states ask for a photo ID such as a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, military ID card, or passport. Seventeen states accept non-photo IDs which could include birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements, or utility bills.
States with “non-strict” voter ID laws as categorized by the National Conference of State Legislatures allow voters without acceptable identification to cast a ballot that will be counted without further action on the part of the voter. Strict voter identification laws mean that voters will be required to cast a provisional ballot and show proof of ID within a matter of days for the ballot to be counted. For a full breakdown of the voter ID laws in each state go here.
How do I register?
Now that you’ve determined if you are eligible to vote it’s time to register. We promise it doesn’t take as long as you might think.
Thirty-seven states and Washington D.C. allow online voter registration. If your state does not allow online registration or you prefer doing things with a trusty paper and pen you can complete the National Mail Voter Registration Form and mail it to your local election office. You can find your local election office here.
You can register to vote in person at your state or local election office, at an armed services recruitment center or your local Department of Motor Vehicles. If you need to obtain proper identification then the DMV can be your one-stop shop for obtaining an ID and registering to vote. Just make sure that when you fill out an application for your ID you indicate you would like to register to vote as well.
Even if you want to participate, sometimes you can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. You can still register to vote and request an absentee ballot. You can find more information about that process here. Different states have different registration deadlines. The sooner you register the better. You can see a full list of the voter registration deadlines in each state here.
As the fictional President Bartlet said in an episode of The West Wing “Decisions are made by those who show up” so it’s up to you to register to vote and show up on election day.