1. This is a pivotal election. All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 35 U.S. Senate seats, 36 governorships, about 80 percent of state legislative posts, and scores of mayors and judgeships are on the ballot this fall.
2. You must be a citizen to vote. American citizens — whether born here or naturalized — who will be at least 18 years old on Election Day are eligible to vote.
3. You must be registered in all but one state — North Dakota — in order to vote. Not sure if you are registered? You can check your status through your state board of elections or at vote.org. You can register in person at your local elections office, and online voter registration is available in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In some states you also can sign up at the department of motor vehicles or at armed services recruitment centers. You can find links to state voter registration websites at usa.gov.
4. There are several ways to cast your ballot:
- In person. You can go to your polling place on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, or take advantage of early voting in 37 states and the District of Columbia as much as 45 days before the election. Most election boards will notify you by mail of your polling place and voting times for both early voting and voting on Election Day, or you can find that information on their websites.
- Via an absentee ballot: Every state will mail you an absentee ballot upon request. The applications are often available online. Some states require you to provide a reason you can’t vote in person in order to qualify for an absentee ballot, while others offer a “no excuse” absentee ballot. Eligible excuses include having a disability or being out of town on Election Day.
- By mail: Oregon, Washington and Colorado have all-mail elections. Ballots are mailed to all registered voters, who can return them by mail or in person at a voting center. In 2016, California passed the Voter’s Choice Act, allowing its counties to conduct all-mail elections. This year, five California counties have chosen to move to this system.
5. You may need an ID to vote. In 34 states, voters must show some form of identification at the polls, such as a driver’s license or passport. Some states accept non-photo IDs, like a bank statement or utility bill. In 16 states, a voter’s identity is verified by, for example, asking the voter to sign a card and then checking the signature with the voter registration application.
Most states have a procedure for people without acceptable identification to vote. Some ask them to sign an affidavit affirming their identity. Others let a voter cast a provisional ballot, but the voter then must bring an acceptable ID to the elections office within a specified period of time to have the vote counted.
The National Conference of State Legislatures provides more information about voter ID laws.
6. There are many ways to learn about a candidate. Many states provide sample ballots to voters before the election, and some publish voter pamphlets that include profiles and backgrounds of the candidates. AARP’s Know Your Candidates guide has links to websites for all federal and statewide candidates. In addition, there are several organizations that provide election information: Votesmart.org; RealClearPolitics.com; Ballotpedia.org; and PolitiFact.org.
7. There are more than 150 measures on state ballots across the county. To learn about initiatives in your area, visit your secretary of state’s website. Many states ask nonpartisan groups, including AARP, to write objective descriptions of ballot initiatives, as well as give supporters and opponents the opportunity to write pro and con statements.
8. You can research how incumbents voted. If you are interested in a particular bill or topic, you can look up roll call votes for the Senate or House of Representatives on the Congress.gov page of the Library of Congress website. In addition, AARP has compiled a list of how lawmakers voted on two key health care measures that would have scuttled the Affordable Care Act.
9. Federal laws are in place to help people with disabilities vote. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires that voting be accessible to people with disabilities. What’s more, the Help America Vote Act mandates that every polling place have at least one accessible voting station and that poll workers be available to help people who need assistance. Each polling place must have equipment that can mark the ballot for someone who cannot do so and feature large type for voters with visual difficulties. Your local election officials can provide more details on the accessibility of your polling place.
10. AARP and TurboVote team up to make voting easy. You can be the difference and vote to hold the politicians accountable on issues such as Medicare, Social Security, prescription drugs, caregiving and financial security. Sign up to receive election reminders, update your registration, apply for an absentee ballot and more! You’ll always know when an election is coming up in your state and have the information you need to vote with confidence.