There is no denying it, the campaign season is in full swing. But with the 2008 election still a year away, it is going to be a long campaign. Nevertheless, you really have only one thing to worry about – voting. Voting is one of the most important civic duties, yet recent voter turnout rates hover around 51%. Voting isn’t always as simple as waking up on Election Day and filling out a form – to ensure that your voice is heard, you must carefully follow registration and voting requirements.
In order to be eligible to vote, you must be
- 18 years or older on Election Day,
- a citizen, naturally born or naturalized, and
Registering usually requires that you either register in person or mail in your registration. In most states, you can register at your local Department of Motor Vehicles. You should check with your Secretary of State to determine exactly where to register in your state. In addition, downloadable registration forms are likely available from your Secretary of State’s website (Voter Registration | USAGov). You simply fill out the forms and mail them in. Rock The Vote (www.rockthevote.com) also provides a registration form that works in most states.
In some states, such as Minnesota, you can register at your polling place on Election Day so long as you can verify your residence. In others, you must already be on the roll of eligible voters in order to vote on Election Day. This means you must register before Election Day. Deadlines for registration vary, but are usually 15-30 days before the election. The moral of the story is―to be sure you can vote in 2008, don’t wait, register early.
Federal elections are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Although this may seem like a random date, it actually has ties to our agrarian, rural, religious beginnings. This date ensured that voting wouldn’t interfere with farming or religious obligations and would allow ample travel time.
Today, the importance of Election Day is recognized in some states by its status as a holiday. For example, Delaware and Indiana recognize an Election Day holiday. If you live in a state where Election Day is a holiday, check with your employer to ensure you can have the day off. If instead you live in a state that doesn’t recognize the holiday, you should still talk to your employer about policies that may permit you to take time off for voting. Some employers grant their employees a late start or early departure on Election Day.
On Election Day, you should bring your voter registration card, a government issued ID, and proof of residency. Proof of residency is often simply an official document that lists your address, such as a check or lease. Although states vary as to the exact identification requirements, bringing all three ensures that you won’t hit any snags. Your polling place should be identified on your registration card. Usually it’s a school or community center within walking distance of your home. If you have lost your registration card or have yet to receive it, you can find your polling place by searching your Secretary of State’s website.
The right to vote is a constitutionally protected right. If you believe you are properly registered and eligible to vote, but on Election Day are denied the ability to do so, you should ask to file a “provisional ballot.” This will allow you to vote normally on Election Day. Afterwards, your ballot will go through a review process to confirm your eligibility.
Remember voting is your right. If you have any questions about voting procedures in your state, your eligibility, or if you feel your rights have been violated, work with your attorney to answer your questions and identify the proper course of action.