Congratulations! You’re an adult. Part of being an adult means taking part in shaping your government, which in most places starts with voting. Please note, I do not just mean picking any old bubble to fill in to say that you voted, and I do not mean only voting during major elections like presidential ones. Being a responsible voter means making sure you’re registered, researching issues and candidates, and voting.
There are a lot of responsibilities that come with being an adult. It can be easy for this one to slip through the cracks, but when that happens we give up our voice in a system that — though far from perfect — is perhaps our best opportunity to change our world and create our future.*
So today I’ve got some solutions to common roadblocks that keep people from voting, because those shouldn’t get in your way.**
If you want a refresher on how the voting system works in the U.S., the official U.K. Parliament YouTube channel has the best quick summary video I’ve found (weird, but it works).
There are votes for federal, state, county, and city/town positions and measures. The nice thing is they’re all in one spot on your ballot, but you may need to go to different spots to research them.
If you want more government and voting info, PBS has a whole series of crash course videos that break down different topics.
Do you know if you’re registered to vote? (It’s okay if you don’t, I had to double check that I was.) If you’re not sure, click here to find out. Note that registration deadlines are coming up — if you live in California like me, the registration deadline is tomorrow!
Oops, turns out you’re not registered. Where do you go to do that? There’s a spot on most state and county websites for it, but this page on the federal government’s website can direct you to most of them.
Okay, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to show up in-person. Y’all I am a permanent vote-by-mail voter. You can also request a one-time absentee ballot. Just make sure to check the dates that it needs to be requested and postmarked (aka mailed) by so your vote is sure to count. Here’s a quick guide on the rules in different states.
I’m registered, but don’t know any of these candidates or issues. Cool! Me neither! I was going over my ballot recently and don’t know anything about a lot of these things I get to vote for. That’s where the research starts.
- You can find your state’s voter information guide online (here is the one for California)
- You can search by candidate or issue (clicking through a few links on Google can do wonders)
- This only works for measures, but if you read through most of the detail on a measure or proposition, there’s actually a lot of information — and sometimes it’s buried
- You can look at party websites for perspectives. I honestly won’t vote on an issue before reading what Democrats and Republicans think about it. I don’t ever let party determine my vote, but the reasons each side provides can illuminate more about the topic
- If possible, see if anywhere says who’s funding it. This is a huge deal, and particular corporate or organizational endorsements can be a big clue as to what’s really driving a candidate or measure
- Ask around. I often talk measures or candidates over with my parents and a couple close friends to get another perspective. Absolutely no one can tell you how to vote, but sometimes they have valuable insight
I’ve done my research, and I don’t like any of the candidates for this position. Sorry, bro. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens. You can choose to not vote on a particular measure or position (even if you do vote on the others), or you can pick the lesser of two evils. There’s also usually a write-in candidate option, but Donald Duck hasn’t won any elections yet.
Make sure you know the deadline! For California, it’s June 5 this year. Find out when your ballot is due here.
Okay cool, but like where do I show up? Click here to find your closest polling place, and make sure to check the hours!
Know your rights. This is so important! Here are the most pressing need-to-knows:
- If you’re in line when the polling place closes, they still have to let you vote
- You may need to show ID, but every state is different. Click here to find out what’s required.
- As long as you’re 18 by election day, you can vote
- You can be homeless and still meet the residency requirements to vote
- If you have any sort of disability or language barrier, you can choose someone to assist you in the voting booth (as long as that person is not your employer, an agent of your employer, or an officer or agent of your union)
- You can ask folks at the polling place to help you as well
- You can fill out a sample ballot ahead of time and bring that in with you to make things easier (or any other piece of paper). If you were registered to vote a month or more ahead of your election, you should be automatically mailed one. If you weren’t, you can usually request one from your local county website
- You do not have to tell anyone how you voted, nor is anyone allowed to demand you vote a particular way. Period.
I’m really proud and honored to live somewhere where I — as a mixed-race, non-land owning, unmarried woman — am able to vote. We have an imperfect, sometimes frustrating system, but voting is one of the most important ways we can take part in improving it. A lot of our ancestors and fellow citizens paid with their voices, minds, bodies, and lives to make sure we could. Let’s honor that by voting, and by voting responsibly. The future’s counting on us.
*A lot of this is U.S.-centric, so I apologize if you live in a different country and this doesn’t prove as helpful. But to the best of my understanding many similar principles apply and comparable resources exist, so a little digging should provide the info you might need.
**I’ve tried to make this as nonpartisan as possible, but some of the links provided may seem to lean either conservative or liberal. I do not post them as a party, candidate, or measure endorsement, but only because they had the most thorough information I could find. Always look at both sides, and think with both your head and your heart.