Things That Matter

Voting 101: Top Tips For First Time Voters Or Those Just A Little Out Of Practice

The election heat is on, and you might be totally new to the whole affair. There are a whole lot of things to figure out if it’s your first time voting, including whether you’re eligible, as well as questions about timing, logistics, candidates, and more. No worries, though, because here are some tips for first-time voters as well as people who may be a little out of practice.

And with the Coronavirus pandemic and Republican attacks on voting rights and access, it’s more important than ever that you vote with as much knowledge as possible.

Below, see everything you need to know about being a first-time voter, from registration to placing an absentee ballot to what items you’ll need to be prepared when you head to your polling place.

Make sure you’re registered to vote!

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The first step in preparing to vote is to make sure that you’ve registered to vote before the cut-off date, which varies from state to state.

If you won’t be in town, you can cast your vote via an absentee ballot, which is often referred to as mail-in voting. (Note: some states will let you vote by mail even if you will be in town.) VOTE411.org has all the information you need to know about how to get registered and request an absentee ballot in your state. Be extra careful to note the deadline, since absentee ballots often have a due date before the actual election, and the United States Postal Service is likely to get overburdened as Election Day gets closer. Check out Teen Vogue‘s explainer on voting by mail if you want to learn more about the pros and cons of going this route.

Learn more about the candidates and referendums.

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Some people may want to vote — but don’t know who to vote for. You can check out voter guides related to your state, as well from organizations that are offering comprehensive information on which candidate is running for which office in your state. Plus, there’s Ballot Ready for learning about the issues candidates stand against or in favor of.

Actually showing up to vote…

Most states will send you a voter card to confirm that you are registered. This piece of mail will likely include your designated polling place. If it doesn’t have that information or you misplaced your card, you can look it up online. Here’s an easy tool that will point you in the right direction. You won’t need to bring your voter card with you, but your state may require a valid photo ID.

Most polling places open between 6 and 9 a.m. and stay open until around 7 to 9 p.m., but double check with yours just to make sure (this will probably be listed online or via your local news media). Show up in the morning if possible to beat the crowds. Many states hold early voting periods in the lead-up to Election Day, which are a great way to avoid long lines and ensure your ballot is counted.

What should you expect at the polling station?

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If you’re curious to know what it is like to be at a polling station, just search for “voting machines” along with your state’s name on Google. This should give you ample material on the equipment at the station and how you’re expected to use it. If you don’t have the time, you can simply ask a poll worker who should help you navigate the station

Can you vote early?

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The option to vote early ends a few days before the Election Day, depending on your state. So head on over here to find out if you can vote early.

Can you leave work or school to vote?

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If you work or need to attend classes, you should tell your management or administration about your plans so you can take time off. Find out your state’s laws about leaving work early to vote.

Can you take a selfie to show off your pride in democracy?

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You may also be tempted to take a selfie with your ballot to share your experience on social media. However, make sure to be careful of your state’s laws when it comes to taking photos at a polling station. According to USA Today, some states strictly forbid taking photos, although many states still have unclear guidelines. If you are unsure of what your state allows, it’s probably a safer bet to not post that selfie.

What should you do if you feel like your rights were violated?

In the event that you suspect your voting rights were violated (for example, if you think your voter registration was removed or you were turned away from a polling station for a suspicious reason) contact the number for ACLU’s Election Protection: (866) 687-8683. The website provides detailed information for contacting officials in your own state.

What should you do if there are intimidating political groups or others protesting outside your polling place?

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Nearly every state in America prohibits people from political campaigning within 100 feet of the voting station. If you are aggressively accosted by someone attempting to persuade or dissuade your voting choice, alert a polling official.

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