I want to walk you through my experience as a first time voter. I don’t want to persuade you to vote for any individual–rather, I want to talk to you about the voting process because I think my writing it out may be insightful for someone who may be anxious about voting or may not be sure if they plan to.
Registering to Vote
I registered to vote when I was 18. I did it on my phone, laying in bed, and the only time I moved was to ask my roommate to bring me my wallet.
To become a registered voter in my state you must: be a US citizen, be a resident of the state, be 18 by/on the date of the election, cannot be under an order of imprisonment, and cannot be under a judgment of full interdiction or limited interdiction. If you meet all those requirements but do not have a driver’s license or special ID card, you CAN still vote; you just have to print out your registration forms and mail them to the Registrar of Voters where you reside. You will also need your social security number–at LEAST the last four digits. If you do not have any of those three things, you STILL are eligible to vote; just include–when you mail your registration forms–a form of photo identification and any kind of government document which shows your name and place of residence (for example: a utility bill or a bank statement). Personally, I had a driver’s license and I knew my SSN, so I filled everything out online.
Now, when you register in my state, which political party you identify with is actually very important. Being an Independent–or, having no affiliated party–limits you as a citizen in terms of voting. For example, my roommate was unable to vote in the primaries because of her “No Party” identification. I don’t want to discourage you from picking whichever political party (or lack thereof) you feel is most applicable to you. I would, however, encourage you to look up the laws in your state surrounding how you can vote as an Independent.
Before I Voted
I don’t know if it’s common to have these, but there’s a nifty little app here that tells me everything. The home page of said app allows me to access:
- polling locations (for early voting and election day voting)
- a sample ballot
- information about my district
- current elected officials
- ways to contact my registrar(s) of voters
- my personal voter information
- an option to receive reminders about early voting and election days
- election results (by item being voted on AND location)
I used this app’s sample ballot to see what I would be voting on before I went in–for me, it included the Presidential election, a Senator, a U.S. Representative, and six constitutional amendments.
While I think voting on federal government elections is extremely important, I think what a lot of people forget is that “down ballot” voting–or, voting for local government officials/decisions–is extremely important as well, possibly even more so. I say that because what decisions my elected state officials will make are far more likely to affect me directly and, sometimes, immediately.
So instead of voting just for the presidential election, I voted for everything. And I didn’t go in blind, either. I used the sample ballot as a basis for who or what I did research on. Each position listed the candidates running for said position and their political affiliation; unless I already knew who I wanted to vote for, I looked for the people affiliated with the same party as me, and voted for whomever I thought was best for the position. I looked up breakdowns of each constitutional amendment from local news sources I trust, and made my decisions. I based some decisions off of how it would directly affect me; I based others off of how I thought it would affect the state as a whole.
I chose to early vote. The line was long. It was hot outside. It was 2PM and I had not eaten a single thing all day. I almost forgot my wallet in my car. Parking was awful. The first person I talked to when I got inside announced to the room that I was First Time Voter. Considering I was wearing a “2015 High School graduate” t-shirt and patterned leggings, I don’t really know why he was surprised. But, I digress.
The woman who helped me was kind, checked on me twice, and walked me through every step. I didn’t feel judged, or unwelcome. I did my civic duty, grabbed a sticker, and walked out. And I didn’t expect to feel good about voting, but I did.
The process leading up to voting is daunting. It feels time consuming and like it’s not worth much. But it is worth something. Your vote does matter; to suggest otherwise is just an excuse for your laziness or unwillingness to educate yourself.
Some helpful resources when going through the voting process are How to Vote on YouTube and, hopefully, the website for the secretary of state in your state. Happy Voting, my dudes.
-Happy Halloween, Hurricane Hope