If you know me, you know I love democracy. I love voting, so you can only imagine my disappointment when on a sunny Tuesday morning I walked to my polling location and was turned away. I had registered online, checked my registration and looked at my sample ballot (several times). I was ready, I had done everything right, except I was missing one document. After several months working on campaigns and studying for my citizenship exam, I almost felt like I had been cheated out of my first American election, and I found out this was the case for many other young voters and college students.
As I made my way back to my dorm, ranting to my friends, I began to realize just how little college students really understood voting, and in many ways, this felt justified. As a college student you hardly know where you live half the time, never quite sure where to send your prescriptions to, what address to put on documents, or what zip code to give when paying. Throw in gerrymandered congressional districts and precincts and it all becomes even more confusing.
Often times our decisions in college feel awfully temporary, in some ways that’s great: you ended up a crappy internship? Good thing it’s only three months, you realized you can’t actually get up in time for your 8am? Just switch out. But when it comes to our political involvement these are the decisions that will last a lifetime.
Step 1: Figuring Out Where You Want Your Vote to Count
Unless you’re living at home, chances are your Congressional district has changed, even if you’re only a few miles from your hometown. If you’re still living in the same state, the only things this would change are the congressional and state legislature races, which ultimately brings up the question of where you see yourself being more involved in local politics. Maybe you know a candidate personally in your hometown, or maybe you’re involved in your college community. Whatever the case may be, deciding whether to change your voter registration within your home state comes down to a question of your personal involvement.
Changing your voter registration out of state becomes a little trickier, especially in our current climate of extreme partisanship. Many young progressives decide to keep their voter registrations in their home states if they are from deep red states because they feel like their progressive vote would make more of a difference there. However, this only works depending on how involved you are in your politics at home. For example, I am a Democrat originally from Texas but living in Massachusetts. One deeply red state, and one deeply blue one, however when I became a citizen I decided to register in Massachusetts. Even though my progressive vote would have hypothetically counted more in Texas, a lot of the work I do academically and professionally is connected to Massachusetts politics, so it was more advantageous for me to be registered as a Massachusetts Democrat.
Deciding to change your voter registration is truly a question of balance, of how heavily involved you are and what issues matter most to you. While some will try to tell you to change your registration to “where it matters more” that is a decision that only you can make.
Step 2: Changing Your Registration
In order to change your voter registration to a new state or district, you simply submit a new voter registration form with an updated address (if switching states, you would submit it to your new state.) There are a number of states that do online voter registration, however, there are several websites where you can input your information and it will fill out the form for you so that all you have to do is print and mail it into the Secretary of State’s Office in your specific state.
Step 3: Election Day
Election day has finally come and the excitement is, of course, unparalleled. For those that chose to keep their original voter registration, this means by election day you should have voted absentee. You must request an absentee ballot from your state’s Secretary of State and it will be sent in the mail to you to fill out and mail back. Making sure that you give yourself plenty of time to both apply for an absentee ballot and mail it back is critical. Most states have deadlines to apply for an absentee ballot up to 10 days before the election, but considering that national mail can take anywhere between one and four weeks to be delivered, requesting and filling your ballot out early is best. For those of you physically going to a polling location, make absolutely sure that you have something that proves your address. This can be anything from a bill to a piece of mail. For students in dorms, the safest and most certain way to assure you have a proof of residence is to request a proof of residence letter from your university, which can usually be done through your Student Affairs Office.
From here on out, it’s all up to you. Having researched not only candidates in your local races but also ballot initiatives is critically important. Ballot questions are often purposely phrased to be misleading, so make sure you are certain on whether the “yes” or “no” vote aligns with your personal beliefs. Furthermore, many states have a sample ballot you can look at online before coming to the polls, which allows you to see candidates and ballot questions as they will appear on election day
Whether Democrat or Republican, I urge every single one of you to vote in your midterm and local elections. If there is any part of the political process you are frustrated with, whether that be corruption, partisanship, or the influence of money in politics, on the left or the right, I assure you it can be influenced through your vote. Having worked both on campaigns and in state offices, I have seen first hand the role that individual constituents can have in influencing policy. The calls you make, the emails you write, and the votes you cast, all of it is being seen by those in the offices. When enough people make their voices heard, it can turn the tide of an issue, but if you’re not exercising your right to speak up, then the progress can’t happen.
Coming to the United States from a country plagued by censorship and dictatorship, I have also seen firsthand what can happen when people are silenced and have known what it means to have your vote be uncounted or turned against you. Please do not take your opportunity to vote for granted, because I have seen both sides of it and I promise your voice is being heard.
Vote.org– Allows you to register to vote and fill out an absentee ballot online so that all you have to do is print and mail it
Vote Save America– Allows you to register to vote as well as volunteer on campaigns. Also shows you key races and deadlines in your state
US Election Assistance Commission– Bi-partisan commission of Secretaries of State around the country who want to provide voting resources
*Your State’s website is also a huge resource!