So you’re pumped for November. You have your voting outfit picked out, a general idea of what candidates you want to vote for, and brunch plans for after you hit the polls. That’s great — make a day of it! But make sure your plans don’t fall through by double-checking that you’re registered to vote well in advance of heading to the polls.
First, it’s worth checking to see if you’re already registered. The process of registering to vote is included in a lot of routine stuff, like renewing your driver’s license. If you’re already registered, there’s no need to do it again. You can check your voter registration status on Vote.org.
If you aren’t registered, there’s an easy fix for that. The process of voter registration varies from state to state, but Vote.gov has a tool that you can use to look up the registration requirements where you live and kick off the process. Whether your state allows online registration or requires hard copies of your paperwork, it's got you covered.
To register to vote, you’ll need a few basic pieces of information. If you have a driver’s license or state ID, keep that handy and make sure you have your address and Social Security number close at hand. You’ll also need to provide your name and date of birth. Whether you register to vote online or in person, you’ll need some or all of these to fill out and submit your paperwork.
What is the deadline to register to vote?
Like basically everything else in politics, your deadline to register to vote is whatever your state says it is. You can look up your state’s deadline at Vote.org.
How long does my registration last?
Believe it or not, your voter registration can expire. But if you want to know how long you have, that also depends on what state you live in. You may have heard in the past about states “purging” voter rolls. And no, that doesn’t have anything to do with a popular film franchise about state-endorsed lawlessness.
A voter roll, or electoral roll, is a list of people who are eligible to vote in a specific district. When a state purges voters from its rolls, that means those voters’ registrations are marked as expired and they have to register again.
Different states can purge your registration for different reasons. For example, if you live in Ohio, don’t vote for two consecutive years, and fail to respond to a notification from the state, you may be purged from the rolls and you’ll have to register all over again.
Do I have to be registered with a party to vote?
Nope, just make sure you’re registered as a voter and you’ll be all set to vote in November. According to the government, you “are not required to join a political party or reveal your party preference when you register to vote” and “are not required to vote for any candidate based on the party affiliation that you choose.”
If I do want to register with a party, what does that mean, exactly?
When you register with a certain party, you’re declaring yourself to be a member of that party — a Democrat, a Republican, a member of the Green Party, etc. This doesn’t make a difference in the general elections, because those are open to all eligible and registered voters. But it does make a difference in primary elections, where candidates who belong to the same political party run against each other in hopes of representing that party in a general election.
The best way to make sure you can vote in a given election is to check your registration well in advance of the deadline.
In some states, you can only vote in a primary election if you’re registered with a specific party. If that’s the case, then that state has "closed" primary elections. Get it? Because they’re closed to voters who aren't registered with the party in question. In other states, that isn’t the case, and you don’t have to be registered with a party to vote in a primary election. Those are called — no surprise — "open" primaries.
The best way to make sure you can vote in a given election is to check your registration well in advance of the deadline. And one more thing you should know: If you move or change your name, you’ll need to update your registration. Otherwise you won’t be able to snag that “I Voted” sticker, and we all know that’s the best part.