What If Your Status Is Inactive?

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: The 2016 presidential election cycle has been one rough (and consistently shocking) road and I don't think anyone will be sad to complete this process on Nov. 8. The end is in sight — the third and final debate was held on Oct. 19 and, in a wise, succinct tweet that summed up the race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, J.K. Rowling told us: "Your move, America." It is indeed our move, and early voting has already begun in a number of states, including Georgia and Washington. It's safe to say that many Americans are eager to vote, so let's make sure there are no unforeseen roadblocks that could potentially prohibit you from voting. One thing I urge everyone to do is ensure that his or her voter status is "active." If for some reason the answer is no, let's talk about whether or not you can vote if your status is inactive.

First things first — head to the nonpartisan website CanIVote.org and use their dropdown menu to select the state where you're registered to vote. The process is easy — it will redirect you to a page that prompts you to enter your relevant information and it will tell you whether your status is "active" or "inactive." If you're listed as active, you're good to go — but what steps do you need to take if your status is inactive?

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Depending on your state's voting laws, restoring your status may be a hassle or it may be something that can be dealt with quite easily when you arrive at your local polling location — and luckily, most states fall into the latter category. But, if you're wondering why your status has been changed to inactive, it's because you have not voted in two consecutive federal elections and haven't returned the post cards from election officials requesting that you verify your address. The good news is that you're still a registered voter and therefore the process will be easier than scrambling to register at the last minute.

So, what's next? Voting lows are enacted on a state level, so it depends on where you live. Certain states make it as easy as possible for inactive voters to cast their ballots — for example, inactive voters in Massachusetts, California, Florida, and many other states may restore their status to "active" on Election Day as long as they present identification and fill out a form confirming their addresses when they arrive at the polling station. Since it's always better to be safe than sorry, you'll want to bring a recent utility bill or rent receipt in addition to your ID. It's going to be super busy at the majority of polling stations across the country, so it will make it easier on you and the workers if you bring ample proof that you are registered, you reside in the station's precinct, and have the right to become "active" again in time to cast your 2016 vote.


However, there can be some frustrating roadblocks. For example, it was reported on Oct. 21 that approximately two million inactive voters in Ohio would be permitted to vote — but their ballots would be provisional, meaning that they may not be counted on Election Day itself. Provisional ballots are held in a sealed envelope along with the voter's ID information and the Election Board staff has 10 days to determine whether or not they can be counted. So, in a battleground state like Ohio, this could pose a problem if the Nov. 8 results are extremely tight and one candidate requests a recount. (Some of us remember living through the infamous 2000 election, in which Americans waited for days on end as officials counted absentee and provisional ballots in Florida, which was the deciding state that year.)

Because every state is different, the best way to get answers is by contacting your local or state election board. There may still be time to reactivate your status before Nov. 8 — but, if that's not the case, the board can advise you on how best to proceed and ensure that your vote is counted on Election Day.