4 Ways to Get Registered to Vote

Politics, Technology, Tips & how-to

The 2012 general election is coming up sooner than later (Tuesday, November 6, to be exact), which means that, if you aren’t already registered to vote, it’s time to rectify that. The fact is that every vote really does count (think of the Bush/Gore election of 2000) and, if you are unhappy with any aspect of our current laws, government, or national policy, you owe it to yourself and your country to vote. Currently, only 70 percent of Americans who are qualified to vote are registered—that leaves a lot of people who aren’t getting a say in our government.

So now that you’re convinced, how do you register? It’s not difficult, and there are several ways to do it. The basic requirements are that you be a U.S. citizen, you live in the state in which you’re registering, and that you’ll be 18 years of age before the next election. Deadlines and exact requirements vary from state to state. Here’s how to do it:

Register by Mail

In all states but Wyoming, North Dakota, and New Hampshire, you can register to vote by mail using the voter registration application put out by the U.S. government. In some states, you will need to chose a political party if you want to participate in caucuses and primaries for that party, but not all. Leave that box blank if you do not wish to affiliate with a specific party. The form also asks for your race or ethnic group. The purpose of this question is to administer the Federal Voting Rights Act. Not all states require you to name a race or ethnicity.

Most states have a registration deadline of between 20 and 30 days prior to Election Day for receiving your mail-in application. Some states allow you to register with less lead time, but most require 30 days. Guidelines specific to each state, as well as the voter registration application, can be found here. This site also allows you to fill out the voter registration application online, then print it and mail it in.

Register Online

Registering online is probably the easiest way to make sure you can vote in the next election. You type your information into the computer form, hit send, and you’re all set to vote on Election Day. Rock the Vote is geared toward young voters, but voters of any age can use its interface to register online. Simply select your state, fill in your information, and send it off. Keep in mind that voter registration deadlines are 30 days prior to the election in most states for online registration as well, so leave plenty of time to complete your registration.

Register via Social Media

To encourage others to register to vote, Rock the Vote has a social media tool that links would-be voters to your Facebook, MySpace, website, or blog. It’s completely free and easy to use—when you sign up, Rock the Vote sends you an embed code that you can customize if you wish. Your friends and family simply click the link and follow the instructions for registration. It also keeps track of the people who register through your link by state, gender, and other criteria.

Federal Post Card Application

If you are a U.S. service-member or citizen living overseas, you can still register and vote with an absentee ballot. Register and request your ballot simultaneously by using the Federal Post Card Application. Simply fill out the form, sign and date it, and mail it directly to your local election official. Some states will allow you to fax it, as well. It is recommended that you send in your Federal Post Card Application at least 90 days prior to Election Day to allow plenty of time for processing. Once you are registered, you should receive your ballot 45 days prior to the election. If you don’t receive your absentee ballot, you can still vote using the back-up Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which is available both online and at U.S. military installations and consulates.

A Word About Identification

In the last year or two, significant efforts have been made to strengthen election law in several states when it comes to checking identification. States like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have stringent voter ID laws that call for photo ID in order to cast a ballot, while others do not necessarily require photo ID at the time of voting, but may require that it be provided within a few days for votes to count. Though many polling places do not require ID if you have a signature match to your registration or if you sign an affidavit of identity, it’s probably a good idea to bring ID just in case. If you do not have a photo ID, a utility bill or other official piece of mail with your name and address on it would be acceptable in many states.