Ahh, young adult life. Once you’ve completely 18 trips around the sun, the United States of America finally grants you the right to buy lottery tickets, get a tattoo, gamble, and smoke cigarettes (well, hopefully you’re not doing that). On the not-so-fun side, you’ll probably have to serve jury duty soon, register for the military, and pay those dreaded *taxes*. Though, one of the most rewarding and widely-celebrated aspects of becoming a legal adult is finally having your opinion matter to government.
Voting an excellent and most accessible way to take part in your democracy. Unfortunately, for us new voters, it can be intimidating. Whether it’s decoding the legal and political jargon or simply finding out how to register, even a quick google search can sometimes gives you way too much information that it’s impossible to process. Well, it’s your lucky day, because I’ve done all that research for you! (Granted, you will still have to read a paragraph and fill out a form here and there)
Disclaimer: All laws vary by state, but this process encompasses the vast majority. Always confirm by checking the usa.gov website or contacting your local office.
Step 1: Turn 18!
Well, this one is pretty straightforward. Just wait around until it happens.
Step 2: Register to Vote!
In 20 states, you can register to vote online! To complete this, you’ll typically need a driver’s license/ID card, your social security number, and your date of birth.
If you don’t live in one of the 20 lucky states who have ~*gone digital*~, you can still register with the National Mail Voter Registration Form. Print this form out or pick it up at your local election office, DMV, or other voter registration agencies. If you are a first time voter registering by mail (aka, the majority of high school/college students), you may have to submit some sort of identification along with your registration, whether it may be a photo ID, government document, or even a bank statement (view page 1 of the National Mail Voter Registration Form for more information).
When registering to vote, you will be ask your Choice of Party. While it’s not mandatory to pledge allegiance to one party, you may not be able to vote in any particular party’s primary election, caucus, or convention. (Vocabulary tangent: a primary is a pre-election, of sorts. For example, in the 2016 Presidential election, there are currently 17 candidates running under the Republican party and 5 candidates under the Democratic party. A party’s primary will funnel that down to only 1 candidate representing each party.) Thus, if you apply with no party affiliation, you may not be able to decide which single candidate a party will support, but you will be able to vote for the final presidential position across all parties. (Still confused? Check out this video).
Step 3: Submit your registration!
If you’re registering online, you probably just click some sort of “Submit” button, and virtual fireworks, American flags, and bald eagles will fly across your computer screen (I wish).
If you’re registering with the National Mail Voter Registration Form, mail that into your state’s prospective election office (find the address on page 8 of that pdf).
Each state has its own deadline to register, usually around 10-30 days before an election. Get those forms in ASAP or else you’ll have to wait two more years!
Step 4: Actually vote in an election!
It’s your time to shine! Those in the House of Representatives serve 2-year terms, thus elections occur every 2 years and the entire house gets some new faces. Those in the Senate serve 6-year terms, but terms are staggered so elections also occur every 2 years. Presidential elections occur every 4 years.
Contact your local government’s election office to find your closest polling station. If you’re currently living out-of-state for college, you will need to fill out an absentee ballot, and your local government will mail you a special ballot to your dorm. If you’re studying abroad or serving in the military overseas, well, voting is a whole new ball game.