A Guide to Voter Registration
For the last two years, I’ve been registering and pre-registering students to vote at my school. To some of them, registering to vote seems like a daunting task — but it doesn’t have to be. It only took me three minutes and 37 seconds!
Here are some guidelines when registering to vote, and resources to help the process go smoothly for you.
1. Meet the Requirements
Being eligible to vote in the first place may seem obvious, but the rules are different in every state. Two rules that are the same across the country for national elections are that you must be 18 years old before election day and a U.S. citizen. But if you’re really eager, some states will allow you to pre-register.
Some states have residency requirements, which means you have to live in the state for a specific amount of time before you can cast a ballot. So make sure you check your state and county’s specific requirements.
It’s important to register at least a month before Election Day because some states require voters to be registered for at least 30 days before turning in their ballot.
2. Register Online
There are currently 38 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow you to register to vote online. You can find out if your state has an online form by visiting your state’s Secretary of State website or using the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s website.
The online form asks for information like your legal name, birthdate, address, driver’s license ID number, social security number and political party preference (if you have one).
It can be scary to submit your social security number online, but remember that the government already knows your social security number and is only asking you to verify it in order to identify you.
If you’re still concerned for security reasons, be sure to double-check that the platform you’re using is an authentic government form. Otherwise, you can also go in person, which brings up the next method of registering.
3. In-person Registration
You can register in person at your local DMV or election office. It’s also possible to register at public assistance offices, such as a local SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) office. But check if it’s possible to sign up at those local locations before going to them. Many public offices are only open on weekdays, so check their hours before visiting.
4. Updating Your Information
If you move to a different state, you’ll need to re-register based on your new address. But if you’ve changed your name, political party affiliation or moved counties within the same state, you can use your state’s online registration tool or the National Mail Voter Registration form to update your information. In some cases, it’s also possible to call your local public assistance offices to change information.
You can be registered in two states at once. But most states prohibit you from voting in the same election twice, which is called double voting. And 11 states explicitly prohibit voting in multiple states. You can also un-register by sending a cancellation form to an election office in the state you no longer plan to vote in.
Don’t remember if you’re already registered in a specific state? Want to make sure, just in case? Use this database to check.
5. Registering in College
If you plan on registering on campus, be sure to use your dorm or residence address, which is often different from the university mailing address.
And if you plan on studying abroad during an election, you’ll need to request and vote by an absentee ballot. This requires you to send in your ballot earlier than the day of the election to ensure it gets counted. (Note: some states allow you to turn in your absentee ballot in person on the day of the election.)
If you don’t want to re-register in a new state and you attend a school out-of-state, you may also be eligible to vote with an absentee ballot.