Young girl voting for the first time

The Beginner's Guide to Voting

It is your responsibility as an American citizen to vote once you turn 18 because our country relies on people like you to choose our leaders. Participating in the voting process is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming if you've never voted before. Never fear, we’ll guide you through the simple process and provide you with some essential voting info, so you can cast your vote and have your voice heard on the local, state, and national level. 

Register to Vote

First things first, you need to make sure that you're eligible to vote. There are only a few requirements to vote that you have to meet. You must be: at least 18 years old, be a resident of the precinct in which you are registering, and in some states, you cannot be a convicted felon. 

When you actually go to register, you can either head to your local election office, courthouse, department of motor vehicles, or check to see if your state will allow you to register online. When you register, you will have to provide a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, and proof of residence, like a current lease or utility bill. Then, according to voting rules, you will be required to fill out a short form, and they’ll mail you your voter registration card. 

Educate Yourself

The most important step in voting is educating yourself on each of the candidates and what they stand for. You want someone in office who is going to represent your views and beliefs, so research the platform of each candidate in the race and choose the one who matches your own interests. Refrain from voting only based on party lines because each candidate is different and holds different views from one another, so the political party they’re apart of really doesn’t say much about them. 

Head to the Polls

Before you literally head to the polls at your local election office, check online to see if your state has an online voting system or a mail-in voting system in place. Not many states do, and they don’t allow people to vote online or by mail for every election, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Even if casting an online ballot isn’t an option, you can always cast an absentee ballot or participate in early voting to avoid the lines on election day. Early and absentee voting starts about 15 days before election day, so call your local election office to see if they offer these services or if you need to go to a neighboring precinct to cast your early/absentee ballot. 

Once you're at the polls, the voting process is very simple. But, if you want to be completely comfortable and familiarize yourself with the voting software, you can go to your state’s government website to find a sample ballot and other helpful information for your particular state. Even though you are not required by national law to bring a photo ID with you, some states do require you to bring an ID, but it doesn’t have to have a photo on it. It’s probably a smart idea to bring some form of ID and your voters registration card with you anyways, even if your state doesn’t require it.

Last Updated: August 21, 2015