Voting At A Polling Place For The First Time? Here's Everything You Need To Know
The highly-anticipated midterm elections are less than a week away, and it's time to start preparing for the big day. If you're voting in person, you'll need to figure out where to go, how much time to set aside, and more. Luckily, I've got you covered: Read on to find out what to know about voting at a polling place for the first time.
If you're a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and have never been convicted of a felony, you have the right to vote (most states disenfranchise people with felonies, though some later restore the right). If you're not sure whether you're registered to vote — or you want to double-check, which is always a good idea — look up your status on Vote.org. If you're not registered, don't fret yet, because 17 states allow you to register on the same day as voting: Check this list from the National Conference of State Legislatures to see if yours is one of them.
While every election is important, this one is particularly significant. Many analysts are arguing that it will act as a referendum on President Donald Trump and his agenda. The makeup of the Senate will partially determine whether the president is able to appoint more Supreme Court justices in the next two years. The makeup of the House will determine whether Congress forces Trump to release his tax returns and exercises more oversight of the executive branch. Many governor and state legislature races will determine which party gets to redraw district lines in 2020, which — because of gerrymandering — affects parties' probability of winning in those districts.
Not convinced yet? Read more about why it's absolutely crucial that you vote on Nov. 6. Then check out the information below to find out how to do it.
Where Do I Go?
Go to the federal government's website on elections and select your state. It will bring you to your state's election office site, where you can input your address to find your polling place. Make sure you input your address exactly: Even someone across the street from you might be in a different district than you are.
What Will Happen?
You'll probably have to wait in line for a while at the polling location. Eventually, you'll give your name and address to a worker, who will (in most states) also ask to see your ID. Then they'll have you sign the poll book and usher you to the ballot boxes. Some states use electronic machines, while others use paper ballots. Once you're finished, if you like, grab an "I VOTED" sticker as you leave!
How Much Time Do I Need? What About My Job?
It's hard to say exactly how long voting will take, so be sure to set aside as much time as you can for the task. According to The Washington Post, the average wait time across the country was 14 minutes in 2014, but it was much worse in certain states (it reached 45 minutes in Florida). Lines will be longer in more populous communities and at busier times of the day (according to NPR, that's when people are commuting to or from work and during lunch hours). Some counties actually have online software that estimates the current wait time at your polling place.
Most states have laws that enable you to leave work to vote; check Business Insider's map to see if yours is one of them. If it is, make sure you still check in with your employer so they're aware of your plan. And if it isn't, still talk to your employer — they may allow you to leave to vote even if it isn't mandated by the law. If none of this is possible for you, vote before or after work (polling places tend to open early in the morning and close in the mid-evening) or vote early.
What's Going To Be On My Ballot?
Use Ballotpedia's lookup tool to find a full sample ballot with all of the candidates and issues you'll be able to vote on during Election Day (it asks for your email address, but you can just hit "continue" if you don't want to provide it). You can also find one at your local election board website.
Fully exercising your vote — not just using it on the most prominent races at the top of the ballot — is an important civic duty. Make sure you research all the candidates and issues on your ballot before you go. Set some time aside for the task because the list might be long. If you're too busy to do a thorough job, one way to speed up the process is to look at candidates' endorsements. If you know that you highly trust an organization, it's often a safe bet to vote for the person that group has endorsed.
What Should I Bring?
Not all states require you to show identification at the polls, but about two-thirds do, and some rules are quite strict. Sometimes you need a photo ID that has your registered address on it; sometimes you just need proof that you live there, like a utility bill. Check out Ballotpedia's map and list that explains the laws in each state. Sometimes the laws are different if you're voting for the first time or just changed your registration, so be sure to scroll down to read the details, even if the map shows that your state has no ID requirements. Follow the link to your state's election office site if you need extra clarification.
It's also a good idea to bring the notes you've taken on the candidates to remember who you're planning to vote for. You can even bring a sample ballot that you've filled out in advance and just copy it over.
Those are the most important things you need to know; for more information, check out your state's election office site. Now, get out there and start preparing! See you at the polls on Nov. 6.