by Jessica Hall, Guest Contributor
You just moved and after updating your address with your bank and all your magazines, finding the closest grocery store and registering the kids at their new school–what else is there to do? Update your voter registration of course!
September is National Voter Registration Month and we here at NextGen MilSpouse have a voter registration guide so that you’re ready to vote in the next election.
Registering to Vote in Your State
Each state has their own requirements for voter registration but the most common ones are:
- U.S. citizen
- Resident of that state
- 18 years or older
- Registered before the state deadline
Most states accept the National Mail Voter Registration Form available for download from the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC). There are state specific instructions at the end of the form.
North Dakota and Wyoming do not accept the form; New Hampshire only accepts this as a request for their own absentee registration. Do not use this form if you are stationed overseas.
For more information about your state’s voter registration requirements, visit their Elections website. The EAC has a complete list with links to each state’s website, along with its Facebook page and Twitter handle.
You should register to vote in the state that you are a resident of – this could be where you are currently living or your Home of Record. Also, each state has their own deadline – this can be the day of the election or weeks in advance. Check with your state on their deadline, then get to registering!
Absentee Voting and Voting Overseas
Just because you’re stationed overseas does not mean that you can’t vote. In fact, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 protects the voting rights of active duty members and their dependents, as well as U.S. citizens residing abroad. The act requires states to allow these eligible citizens to register to vote and vote remotely (by absentee ballot) in federal elections. The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) provides resources to service members and their families and overseas citizens so that these individuals are able to vote anywhere in the world. Additionally, the Director of FVAP administers UOCAVA.
If you have questions about how to register to vote or request your absentee ballot, visit a Voter Assistance Office. These offices are at military installations worldwide, including those in the U.S. For a complete list visit the FVAP website.
If you are living overseas, you’ll want to register to vote in your permanent state of residence. It is up to you to update your mailing address with your local elections department and fill out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and mail it to your local election official. The FVAP website has the form to download, as well as information for each state’s requirements and local officials contact information. Start your process on their Absentee Voting Overview.
Many states allow for absentee voting in local elections. For instance the state of Washington mails all registered voters their ballots. It’s then up to the voter to return it on time by mail or in a designated drop box or place by Election Day at 8 p.m.
If you aren’t going to be in the state where you are registered on Election Day–request an absentee or early ballot from your local election office. If you aren’t overseas, it is very likely a different form from the FPCA, so download or request information directly from the local official.
Ballots cannot be forwarded by the post office so update your information as soon as possible to ensure that you do receive your ballot on time.
Finding Out Where to Vote
Once you’re registered to vote the next step is to vote! When Election Day rolls around, you’ll need to go to your designated polling place. These are determined by where you live and are usually in your neighborhood, often at a school or community center. Your local elections department (usually run by the county) will be able to let you know where your polling place is located. Many state elections websites also have search tools to help you find out where to vote.
You can find a complete list with links on this helpful Cheat Sheet from the Election Assistance Commission.
Voter ID Laws
States vary in the required identifications needed to verify yourself at your polling place. Most often a signature is used to verify identification, including for ballots sent by mail. Of the 36 states that require some sort of identification at the poll, some laws are stricter than others. Valid forms of identification include a driver’s license or state ID card, passport, birth certificate, military ID card, current utility bill or bank statement, voter ID card and credit card. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a handy table with detailed information for every state.
If you do not have the proper identification, most states will allow you to vote a provisional ballot. Each state has their own rules about when a provisional ballot is counted, the same table from NCSL explains when a provisional ballot is cast in each state and how it can be counted.
Check with your state before heading to the polls to be sure that you have the right identification with you on Election Day. Legislatures do amend these laws frequently and some have been challenged in court, so stay up to date with the NCSL (they update their table frequently) or by contacting your local election official. Happy voting!
Our friends at the American Military Partner Association is teaming up with 1,400 other organizations across the country to raise awareness for National Voter Registration Day (September 22). If you are interested in helping, visit AMPA’s website for more information.
Jessica Hall is a freelance communications consultant and author of More Than A Military Spouse. She has a Master’s degree in Communication, Digital Media from the University of Washington and a dual B.A. in Journalism and History from New York University. Jessica is an Army spouse and enjoys cooking, exploring whatever duty station she’s at and volunteering more than she should. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.