Voting can seem complicated, especially if you just turned 18 and have never done it before. But it's actually pretty simple!
There are a few different kinds of elections and election vocabulary to be mindful of too. We'll also go over the voting process so you know everything you need to do before you vote and when you vote. When it comes to voting, you also want to participate as early as possible so you can be informed and make your own educated choice.
Your Right to Vote
The first step to understanding how voting works is learning election vocabulary. There are different kinds of elections, events, elected officials, and more to consider when going to the polls.
You probably already know about the presidential election. This is when registered voters in the US come together every 4 years to vote for the next president and vice president of the United States.
The federal election is when voters come together to vote for officials in the federal government. This could include the members of congress, senators, and members of the house of representatives.
The state election includes voting for state legislatures, governors, the attorney general, secretary of state, state supreme court, and any other members of the state judiciary. State elections are also the time where you might vote on state policies.
The local election is where you vote on county and city government officials, like sheriffs, the mayor, and school board members.
One of the first things that happen during election season are conventions for each political party. These conventions are generally held nationally. It is where political parties all gather together to browse the nominees for the coming presidential election.
If you are registered to vote with a certain political party then you can go to that party's caucus. It is a meeting where people of a specific political party gather together. This can be where members of the party register their preferences for who should be that party's candidate. They also gather to discuss political policies pertinent to that group.
The primary elections are the preliminary voting that takes place to decide who the final candidates for the final election will be. This narrows down the field so that when it comes time to vote for the actual president, there aren't 30 or more people you have to know about and choose from on the voting ballot.
The Electoral College
We use the electoral college to determine the presidential winner in the end. Each state has several electors who cast these electoral votes. These electors consider the votes of the people from their states and use that information to cast their electoral vote. It's these votes that determine who wins the presidency.
What's the Election Schedule?
There are many events during election season that take place the year before, during, and after the election year. Here is a general outline of all the most important election events you are going to want to be aware of.
BEFORE Election Year
- Spring: Candidates start announcing their intentions to run for president.
- Summer: Primaries, caucus, and debates begin to take place.
DURING Election Year
- July to September: Political parties choose their candidates.
- September to October: Presidential debate.
- November: Election Day.
- December: Electoral College votes.
AFTER Election Year
- January: Congress counts the electoral votes.
- January 20th: Inauguration Day.
How to Register to Vote
Start your voting journey by registering to vote. You register to vote in your state of residency so that when you do vote, you’ll be a part of your state’s voting pool. Registering to vote is incredibly easy to do. You can do it in person or online.
Register to Vote IN PERSON
- The DMV
- The armed forces recruitment center
- State and county public assistance offices
Register to Vote ONLINE
Register to Vote BY MAIL
How Do I Vote?
One of the biggest questions people have when it comes to elections is how to vote. Thankfully this process isn't too complicated either. You'll want to register to vote, participate in primary elections, stay informed, and vote at your polling place on election day.
Step 1: Stay Informed
Before election day arrives there will be primaries, caucuses, and political conventions to help narrow down the candidates. Different parties and states will do these preliminary voting events in varying ways.
During this time candidates will be narrowed down to the final few. They will also announce who their vice president will be, and then they go across the country campaigning, talking about their views and plans, and debating with other candidates until election day arrives. You can also help out your candidate of choice by volunteering or fundraising for their campaign.
Step 2: Vote on Election Day
Do your research and watch debates to learn about the different presidential options, what they are all about, and what their presidential plans are. Then all that is left to do is go to your local, designated polling station on election day and cast your vote.
Election Day is always on the first Tuesday in November. The only way you can cast your ballot is in person, or by mail. There is no way to vote online, so when election day comes you'll need to be prepared to physically go to the polls, or be prepared ahead of time to mail in your ballot.