About 7 in 10 eligible Americans are registered to vote. Voting lets your voice be heard, and that’s important for every election, particularly the looming presidential election of 2016. It is your right and your responsibility to register—and then, of course, to actually vote.
Are you eligible?
To vote for president, or in any federal election, you must meet certain requirements:
- You must be a US citizen.
- You must be 18 years old. Some states permit 17-year-old individuals to vote in primary elections. Almost all states allow 17-year-olds to register if they will be 18 by the date of the election.
- You meet your state’s residency requirements.
- You must be registered by your state’s deadline. Some states require that you register at least 30 days before the election. A few states permit voters with proof of residency to register on election day itself.
- Your state may require a specific type of identification before you will be given a ballot.
Get help from the EAC
If you meet the above eligibility requirements, you can reach out to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for specific voting information by state. The EAC, established in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), serves as a national clearinghouse of election and voter information.
The EAC features an interactive map of voter information by state. There, you can determine whether or not your state offers online voter registration. The commission also maintains the National Mail Voter Registration Form (NMVRF) which, in most states, can be used to:
- Register US citizens to vote
- Update registration information due to a change of name
- Make a change of address
- Register with a political party
You can also find the NMVRF at libraries, public schools, and city and county clerks’ offices. You may choose to apply for voter registration online, by mail, or in person. The EAC recommends starting this process at least seven weeks before an election.
Register online or by mail
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia allow online voter registration. Get started by visiting Vote.USA.gov to find out what your state requires. If online registration is an option, simply click on the link listed for your state—the process takes just a few minutes. (Remember, some states have registration deadlines, so don’t wait until the last minute.)
As mentioned above, you can also register using the National Mail Voter Registration Form. You may (1) complete and submit the form onscreen (done!); (2) fill out the form onscreen, print it, and mail it; or (3) print the blank form, complete it by hand, and mail it. Be sure to sign the form before mailing it to the location listed for your state.
Note: If you are outside the United States, get information from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).
Register in person
In some states, you can register to vote by filling out and submitting a National Mail Voter Registration Form at one of these public facilities:
- State or local voter registration/election offices
- State department of motor vehicles
- Armed services recruitment centers
- State or county public assistance offices
Once you’ve registered to vote, confirm your voter registration status with your state or local elections office. Do this well in advance of registration deadlines so you can make changes or corrections before it’s time to vote.
Determine where you are supposed to vote — the location is assigned based on the home address on your voter registration record. If you vote at a polling place, confirm its location along with opening and closing times. Don’t forget to bring ID if your state requires it. Some states have ballot drop sites instead of polling places, and a few states conduct balloting by mail. Contact your state or local election office to learn more.
If your name doesn’t appear among voter registration records for your precinct, if questions about your eligibility arise, or if you fail to produce necessary identification, you may still be able to vote. Federal law allows you to cast a provisional ballot—whether or not your vote will be counted depends on your state and/or locality obtaining satisfactory proof of your eligibility.
You may find yourself out of your voting area on Election Day. Some states allow early voting (in person or by mail). Most states permit absentee voting. Absentee ballots typically must be postmarked before the polls close.
Every election is important, and every vote counts, so let your voice be heard by becoming a registered voter and participating in every available primary, caucus, and election.