If you’re turning 18 before November 3rd, 2020, this will be the first time that you’re eligible to vote in a presidential election! While voting is an awesome way to make your voice heard, it can be a challenging process, especially during a pandemic. It might seem confusing or difficult to register to vote, to know how to approach voting if you attend school in a different state than you live in, or even to find out where you might vote in person. Don’t worry! Today, we’ll de-mystify the voting process and help you make your voice heard!
Wait. But why is voting important?
It can seem like your one vote might not do much in an election, especially considering that there are literally millions of people of voting age. However, your vote represents your voice and helps you advocate for other people who care about the same issues you care about. The candidate who wins a government election, presidential or local, should represent and reflect the interests of the population they’re meant to represent (including you!). If you don’t vote, your voice won’t be heard, and the chances that a candidate who you support will win become that much slimmer.
Here’s a quote from National Geographic that really sums up why your vote is important:
Your vote may not directly elect the president, but if your vote joins enough others in your voting district or county, your vote undoubtedly matters when it comes to electoral results. Most states have a “winner take all” system where the popular vote winner gets the state’s electoral votes.
Also, some elections can really come down to a very small margin of voters. In 2000, Al Gore narrowly lost the presidential election to George W. Bush. What cost him the victory? He lost the electoral votes of Florida to Bush by a difference of 537 voters. This number was so small that they had to count, and recount, and recount just to be absolutely sure that Bush had the victory. Just think - if 538 more Gore-supporting voters had voted in Florida in 2000, the next eight years of U.S. history might have been completely different, for better or for worse.
Okay, okay - so voting is important. Why are college student votes important?
Take a moment and guess what percent of eligible college students voted in the 2016 election.
If you guessed anything above 50%, you’d be wrong. According to a study from Tufts University, only 48.3% of eligible college students voted! If this number sounds low to you, consider this was a 3% increase from the 45.1% of student-voters in 2012. Even students who registered to vote didn’t turn out in full force - only about 68.5% of registered college-age voters showed up in 2016 (granted, this is an increase from the 65.3% of voters in 2012…). There are millions and millions of college students in the United States, who could make a difference in an election easily by showing up and voting. Think about how close the 2016 election was - regardless of which political party you support, either candidate could have won with a wider margin had more college students turned out.
All right, so say I want to vote. How do I register?
There are three main ways of registering - online, using a mail-in registration form, or in-person. If you live in one of the states in which you can register to vote online, you’re in luck! The process takes a few minutes at most. Head to https://vote.gov/, where you can select your state and register to vote following local procedure. Documents necessary to register to vote will often include a form of valid ID, evidence that you live in the U.S., and in some cases your Social Security Number. Be sure to check on the website what documents you’ll need to register.
If online registration isn’t available where you live, you can print off a registration form on vote.gov. This is a pretty quick form to fill out. After you’re done filling out the registration form, you’ll want to mail it to your local Board of Elections. You can find the address for your local Board of Elections on the website as well!
Finally, if neither of these options are available to you, you can register to vote in-person. Contact your local election office to find out where you can register in your area.
I’m registered! How do I actually vote?
There are two main ways to vote this upcoming fall: in-person, or using an absentee ballot. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each method and break down how each voting method works.
VOTING IN PERSON
- There’s absolutely no chance that your ballot will get lost in the mail/go unprocessed.
- Many people are anxious about sending their ballots in the mail because they worry that their vote will be lost in the mail. By filling out your vote in-person, you can remove that extra step and make extra certain that your vote will reach its intended destination.
- The process is more straightforward.
- If you decide to vote in-person, you don’t have to request any forms, worry about not submitting any forms in-time, or figure out where to mail your vote. All you have to do is find your polling location, bring a valid form of identification (may change according to state), and vote away!
- You’ll be waiting for a while.
- Lines at polling locations can be very long depending on where you live and how active your local voting population may be. If the pandemic continues through November, you may not want to be in such a crowded area for so long.
- The timing is inconvenient.
- November 3rd falls on a Tuesday, meaning it may be difficult to take time off from work/class to go out and vote. This becomes especially inconvenient if you’re attending college in a different state than where you live.
- Find your local polling location.
- Head to one of the websites linked below or Google where your local polling location is. This will often depend on your address and may change according to whether you live in a house with an even or odd number, so be careful when searching!
- Gather your ID.
- All states require some form of identification to vote. What types may or may not be acceptable will change from state to state. If you go to your local Board of Elections website, you can quickly check to see what types of ID are available and make sure you have them on hand.
- Show up!
- When you arrive at the polling location, a worker will check your identification. Whether you fill out a paper ballot or vote using a poll station computer will change from location to location, but the process is easy. Make sure to pick the right candidate!
- This process is much easier to do from out-of-state.
- Whether you’ll be out of the state for work, college, or vacation, you can mail in a ballot and not have to worry about being physically present to cast a vote.
- This may be safer if the pandemic continues.
- If waiting in a long line during a pandemic isn’t your cup of tea, this is a good way to make sure you vote while staying healthy.
- This is a more bureaucratic process.
- Voting absentee requires mailing in a ballot request form after filling it out, waiting for your local board of elections to mail you a ballot, then filling out said ballot, then mailing it back in… it can be a lot to keep track of, and the process can take a while.
This may change from state to state, but generally:
- Fill out a mail ballot application to request a mail-in ballot.
- Submit your application to your local board of elections as quickly as possible, to make sure the board has enough time to send it back to you before election day.
- When your ballot arrives in the mail, be careful to fill it out properly and send it back at the appropriate time to the appropriate address.
What else can I do to help the voting process?
One quick way you can help voting run smoothly this year is by volunteering to be a poll worker! Applying is a simple and quick process, you get compensated for your time, and you help make your community’s voice heard. Additionally, you should encourage your friends to make their voices heard! You can share this article, resources that make the process easy, or even just tell them why you think it’s important.
What are some helpful resources for me as I register to vote/find out where I can vote?
Below, we’ll share links to websites that centralize voting registration and offer more specific guides to voting by location. You can also find information here for how you can vote overseas, and address any questions about voting you have that we didn’t address here!
We hope these tips were helpful, and that you’ll get out and make your voices heard this fall!
We are thrilled to announce a new Estrela column: "Jasmine's Take!" Jasmine Wheeler joins Estrela’s team as a recent high school graduate, taking a gap year before joining Stanford’s Class of 2025. Working in social media management and writing, she hopes to offer an insider perspective on what it’s like to go through the college process. In her spare time, Jasmine enjoys watching films with her family and working on her writing projects.