This year, Election Day falls on Tuesday, November 6. Though the next presidential election won’t happen until 2020, this year’s election is a midterm election, making it quite important. In fact, this year, every single seat in the House of Representatives (and there are 435) is up for grabs, as are approximately one-third of the Senate seats. If you want your views represented in Congress, now is your opportunity to cast your ballot.
America is built on elections, and it has been since George Washington became president in 1789. Elections don’t just choose seats in Washington D.C., though. They determine everything from who will be the next president to who will be your next county sheriff to whether or not your state will legalize recreational marijuana. Think of any political issue: education, health insurance, abortion, immigration, gun control, taxes, LGBT+ rights, etc. Your vote can make your opinions on these issues heard through your elected official. Who gets elected can make a difference in whether laws become more stringent or lenient, whether rights are protected or abolished, and who is affected.
Voting is your constitutional right. It’s a privilege, and it’s one of the ways that you can influence what happens in federal, state, and local governments. You may think that your vote isn’t important, because it’s one out of thousands, but in some cases, a election can come down to an individual vote. On November 4, 2008, Karl Kassel lost the chance to become a Representative for the state of Alaska to Mike Kelly by a single vote. In any election, but particularly in local elections, your vote counts.
Unfortunately, not all young voters actually vote, despite the fact that they make up a significant portion of the voting population and have quite a bit to gain from voting. Take the 2016 presidential election, for example:
- 46.1% of 18–29 year olds voted
- 58.7% of 30–44 year olds voted
- 66.6% of 45–64 year olds voted
- 70.9% of 65+ year olds voted
Furthermore, younger voters and older voters think differently. Again, in the 2016 presidential election:
- Voters 18–29 years old preferred Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump 55% to 37%.
- Voters over 65 years old preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton 53% to 45%.
Though older individuals who are approaching retirement and, eventually, death, have less to lose than younger voters with their entire lives ahead of them, the older voters are the ones who are showing up to the polls in force and making decisions. If you want to choose your future, instead of letting your future be chosen by people who are less likely to be around to experience it, you have to vote.
And it’s easy!
To vote, all you need is to be a registered voter.
How to Register:
If you are a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old (in some states you can vote in a primary election at 17 if your birthday occurs before the general election), you can register to vote.
If you’re leaving your home state to attend college, you can choose whether you’d like to register to vote in your home state or in the state where you’re attending college. You can only be registered to vote in one place, so choose the option that is the most convenient for you. If you have an address in your college town and plan to establish residency for the next four years, it may be easiest to register there. If you’re not all that far from home or if you prefer to vote in your home state, register there and then ask for an absentee ballot for any elections that will take place when you’re not at home.
No matter where you choose to register, if you’re in one of 37 states, you can register online. If you’re not a resident of a state that allows online registration, you can register by mailing in the National Mail Voter Registration Form.
There are deadlines to register to vote, some as early as 30 days before the next election. Check the deadlines for your state (some allow you to register in-person on Election Day if you miss the mail or online deadline or to vote conditionally on Election Day and have your vote counted after your registration is verified). With Election Day only 34 days away, now is the time to register.
How to Vote Absentee:
If you will be out of the country (say, on a study abroad trip or military orders) and will not be able to vote in your state, you can request an absentee ballot.
To do so, fill out a Federal Post Card Application. You will need to share your home address, your current address, your contact information, and how you would like to receive voting materials. Then, print and sign, and mail it to the local election office in the state where you’re registered to vote. Close to the time of the election, you’ll receive a blank ballot. Once you have it, simply vote and return your completed ballot to the local election office once more.
If you will be out of the state (say, at college) and will not be able to vote in the state where you are registered, you can also request an absentee ballot. Rules vary by state (you may need to submit a photo ID or specify why you are unable to vote in person), so visit your state’s Department of Elections website for more information.
How to Vote In Person:
Voting isn’t hard, but you have to be willing to make an effort. You may work or have class, but polls are often open for at least 12 hours (from as early as 6:00 am to as late as 9:00 pm), so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding an hour of your time to get to your voting location and cast your vote.
You must vote at your registered polling station; polling stations are assigned by address and generally are located fairly close to your home. Polling stations may be in school gymnasiums, places of worship, retirement homes, etc. If you’re unsure of your polling station, check your voter registration card or visit your state’s Department of Elections website.
Depending on your state, you may be required to present a photo ID (a driver’s license or passport, for example). Some states allow voters to present their birth certificates or a utility bill with their name and address as proof of identification. Again, check the requirements in your state.
The name and/or address listed on your ID must be the same as the name and/or address listed on your voter registration. If these don’t match, you may not be allowed to vote.
Once you’ve checked in, you’ll be given further instructions. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an “I voted” sticker!