During presidential election years, you basically can't walk ten feet without a political volunteer rolling up to you just to make sure that you're registered and ready to vote on Election Day — but during midterm election years, figuring out when and how to vote can be a lot more confusing. What if you've moved since the last election? How can you figure out which polling place you're supposed to go to?
Unfortunately, these types of questions are why midterm elections rarely draw many voters. The last time more than 50 percent of registered voters turned up for a midterm election was in 1990, and during our last midterm election in 2010, only 41 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
And that's a major problem. Because midterm elections really do matter — 36 Senate seats and all 435 House of Representative seats are being contested this year. That's right. All of them.
What's more, this election contains a number of state ballot measures that could completely change how life is lived in your state — including proposed measures to redefine "personhood" in Colorado and North Dakota, which would massively curtail reproductive rights; proposals to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota; marijuana legalization and decriminalization measures in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia; and a measure that would require background checks for all gun buyers in Washington.
Far from being "boring" midterm elections, there's actually a ton to be psyched about on the 2014 ballot. So don't let this election slip through your hands just because you can't find your voter registration information or don't remember where your polling place is. Use the resources below to figure out if you can vote, where you can vote, what you need to vote, and how you can vote. Because it would be a serious shame not to take a stand on the issues important to you just because you're confused.
How Can I Figure Out if I'm Currently Registered to Vote?
Check your voter registration status online. The website CanIVote.org will take you to your state's online voter registration search, where you can input your personal info and see if you're registered.
Which States Offer Same-Day Voter Registration?
Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia are all the states that currently allow same-day voter registration on Election Day for people who would like to vote but aren't registered yet.
Many of these states have special requirements for same-day registration voters — for example, in Maine, same-day voter registrations can only happen at town office and city halls, not at regular polling places — so read up on this state-by-state guide to same-day voting registration requirements before trying to register on Election Day.
There are pilot programs testing out same-day voter registration in Utah, but they're not available in every county, so check with your local county clerk's office to see if your area is eligible.
And Illinois is offering "grace period registration," a new program that allows voters to register to vote up through election day in person, at special sites throughout the state.
If you're not in one of these states and discover that you're not registered to vote, you're out of luck for this election, unfortunately — all other states require that you register to vote in advance of Election Day. You can check this list of voter registration deadlines across the U.S. to see when your state requires you to register.
What If I Changed Addresses Since I Last Registered to Vote?
Most states offer a 60-day "grace period" for those who've recently moved within the state — so if you live in a state that offers this, you can still vote in your old district for this election, though you do need to fill out a new registration form with your new address to vote in the future. To make sure that your state is offers this program, check out your state election office website.
"Grace period" voting only applies to those who've moved in-state, though — so if you've recently moved to a new state and didn't update your registration, or weren't registered to vote at all, you'll only be able to vote if you live in a same-day registration state. Otherwise, you'll be sitting this election out.
How Do I Know What ID I Need to Bring In Order to Vote?
Every state will accept a valid driver's license issued in that state for voter identification at the polls; each state will also accept some other forms of identification, like out-of-state driver's licenses, birth certificates, or Social Security cards. However, check out your state-specific voter ID requirements, because there are a lot of variations from state to state about what kinds of ID qualify.
How Do I Find My Polling Place?
If you input your home address at Rock the Vote's website, you can find your local polling site. Rock the Vote will also show you everyone who's running for each spot in your local election, with links to each candidate's website so that you can get a better handle on their platforms.
How Do I Find Out How Late My Polling Place Is Open?
In each state, all polling places are open the same hours, so that no one polling place will close while others are still open. You can find out which hours your state polling places are open using this state-by-state voting times guide.
Is Your Job Required to Give You the Time Off to Vote?
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming all have laws on the books that require employers to provide employees with paid time off to vote, if their working hours do not permit them to vote before or after work. A few of those states even fine and penalize employers who try to keep employees from voting.
Several other states, like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky, require your employer to give you unpaid time off to vote, though some of them require employees to give advance notice to their employers if they want to vote during work hours. Check this list of states where employers must give employees time to vote to find out where your state stands.
Is It Too Late to Get an Absentee Ballot?
All states offer absentee ballots to residents who will be out of the area on election day, but all also require you to request an absentee ballot in advance of the election. Some offer absentee ballot sign up until several days before the election, while others require a month or more of advance notice to issue an absentee ballot.
The window's closed for this year, but you can request an absentee ballot for the next election online. Some states do require that you provide a reason as to why you can't get to the polls before they'll issue you an absentee ballot, so make sure to check your state's specific requirements.
How Do I Register for Next Time?
If you've tried everything, and found that you're not currently registered and can't partake in same-day registration, well, then you've learned your lesson, right? You can get registered to vote online in 17 states; in the rest, you have to register in person or by mail. Every state's voter registration deadline information is available online. People on active military duty in other countries and their families, as well as U.S. citizens currently residing outside the country for other reasons, can register to vote via overseas absentee ballot. And voter registrations never expire, or need to be changed unless you move — so once you're registered, you are ready to go to the polls and vote about the sh*t that matters to you for life.
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