voting guide, election, 2018, midterms
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Everything You Need to Know About How to Vote Today

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Updated from November 2nd.

Note: We’ll be updating this article through end-of-day Nov. 6, so if there’s anything we left off, let us know in the comments!

We’ve been hyping the importance of voting and registering to vote for what feels like forever, and now that the big day is just around the corner (Tuesday, November 6th!), there are a lot of first-time (or even long-time) voters out there who might want some advice regarding how to make the most out of their time at the polls, or even basic knowledge for what comes next. We’ve got you covered.

Check registration & find your polling place.

You can do that at vote.org. Check your registration status here and find your polling place here. Even if you know there’s a polling place near you, take a few seconds and check to make sure it’s where you’re supposed to go. Sometimes the borders of voting districts aren’t where you’d expect, so make sure you know before you leave home!

How to get there.

A number of transportation companies are offering free or discounted rides on Tuesday. Lyft is pairing with Vote Latin and is offering 50% off codes and free rides from rural and underserved neighborhoods. Uber is offering up to $10 off rides to your polling location. The scooter & bike company Lime is offering free rides to the polls with a code. Another great resource is CarpoolVote.com, where you can request a ride to and from the polls or volunteer to be a driver. It’s not available everywhere, but if you need a ride or have time and a car to help out, check it out.

Is it too late for early voting?

Not in every state! If you can’t make it to the polls on Tuesday, some states offer early voting with cutoffs up to the day before the election, or the option to drop off an absentee ballot in person. Check to see what your state’s early voting options are here, and if you forsee yourself not being able to vote in person in the future, you can request an absentee ballot here.

Know what’s on the ballot.

A lot of people find themselves discouraged or intimidated by just how many items can be on a ballot. Initiatives sometimes come with confusing language or deceptive ads. If you don’t understand everything, don’t let that stop you from voting!

In an ideal world, yes, you would have an informed opinion about every single politician, judge, sheriff, initiative, and whatever else is up for a vote. But short of that, know what’s important to you. Senator, Governor, Congressperson, Mayor, and other major leadership roles are important to have a say in.

Secretaries of State are the people in charge of overseeing things like voter suppression. So if that’s an issue that’s important to you and Secretary of State is on your ballot, take the time to educate yourself on the choices. (Note: I originally erroneously listed this job as belonging to the Attorney General. That was incorrect. The Attorney General is the state’s top law enforcement official and lawyer, also an important job.)

Plenty of people also vote down ballot based solely on their party. There’s nothing wrong with checking off every Democrat (in my opinion), but also remember, you don’t lose points or anything for leaving things blank.

Check out a sample ballot.

You may have gotten a sample ballot in the mail, and you can also find one online, but the folks at Crooked Media have put together an absolutely incredible resource at VoteSaveAmerica.com. There’s a lot of great stuff at that site (we’ll get to more in a minute), but their voting guide is so useful. Type in your address here and it will bring up your sample ballot. It will take you through every office and issue that will be on your ballot, along with important information on the candidates, including experience, education, and the issues that are important to them.

A heads up that because these guides seem to be put together on a national level, they might miss some of the intricacies of local issues. Missouri, for example, has an incredibly confusing marijuana legalization proposal spread throughout three separate initiatives and VSA seems to have missed just how bizarre and nuanced this is. BUT the site is a great place to start and great resource for making sure you’ve read through everything (in plain language) before walking into the voting booth.

Ballotpedia also has great sample ballots with really concise, clear descriptions of candidates and ballot measures.

Find voices you trust.

Maybe this is a friend or some super knowledgeable person whose social media accounts you love to lurk on. Or maybe there’s a group like Planned Parenthood or the ACLU whose opinions you value and want to know who and what they support. There are tons of voting endorsement guides out there.

Here’s a great one for voting a prochoice ballot. It may not sound the most helpful, but honestly, just Googling [your county/city/state] + voter endorsements will bring up a whole slew of resources from local newspapers and special interest groups. And from there, you can take your pick of who you trust, and start forming your own list of resources for future elections.

Know what to bring with you.

In some states, you don’t need to bring anything at all. In others, you’ll need to show ID. You can find out what you need to bring at Vote Save America. You can also check there to see if your state is one of the few that allows same-day voter registration, meaning you can show up to vote even if you’re not yet registered.

What to do once you’re at the polls.

A few things to remember:

  • This isn’t a test. You can bring notes, and even your phone into your voting booth. (Not all states allow you to post pictures from inside a polling place, though, so double check that before posting your voting selfies.)
  • There’s no time limit. Yes, lines might be long at some polling places but once you have your ballot in front of you (with those notes you brought), you take all the time you need.
  • It’s really easy. If this is your first time voting, you may think you won’t know how to do it. Until I read that NY Mag article going around this week about why some young people don’t vote, I didn’t know this might be causing new voters a lot of anxiety. So here’s what will happen: You’ll walk into the polling place you confirmed online, walk up to the first table you see inside. (If that’s not the right table, they’ll redirect you and they’ll probably be really nice about it.) Tell them your name, show an ID if you need to. They’ll give you everything you need–often just a ballot and a pen but different polling place use different technology and the helpful poll workers will tell you exactly how to use it. Voting “booths” these days are usually just tables with mini makeshift cubicle blinders. After you’re done, you’ll take your ballot to the volunteer manning the voting machine, and when they tell you to, you slide your ballot in. Wait for them to tell you it was accepted, and then claim your sticker. That’s it!

Know your rights.

For voters with disabilities, you have a number of important rights. Polling places are required to be wheelchair accessible, have handrails on all stairs, and provide voting equipment for those who are blind or visually impaired. If you have a disability, a poll worker can help you use the equipment, or you may bring someone with you. You can also bring someone with you if you can’t read and/or write.

If you are turned away from your polling place for whatever reason, you have rights! This is why it’s extra important to check your registration status and your polling place. Even if you think you’re definitely registered and you know where you’re going, it seriously takes a minute so just check again. If you were removed from your polling records due to inactivity (it can happen) or you go to the wrong location, you can still vote. Just request a provisional ballot.

Also, know that no matter how long the lines are at your polling place, as long as you are in line when the polls are scheduled to close, you get to vote! They cannot turn you away.

By the way, if lines are really long, there’s a group called Pizza to the Polls that will deliver free pizzas to voters. Seriously.

Finally, here’s the number to call if you encounter voter suppression in any form or anything else you need to report: Call 866-OUR-VOTE or text OUR VOTE to 97779.

What else?

Now that you’re all set for Tuesday, it’s not too late to volunteer to make a difference in this election, even beyond your individual vote. Vote Save America has a great list of ways to volunteer, from canvassing to text/phone banking, to just how to talk to your friends about voting.

(image: Element5 Digital from Pexels)

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Author
Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.