Voter Survival Guide: Who, What, Where, Why and How

Imagine this: Today is the day everyone has been waiting anxiously for—Election Day. It’s your first time voting, and you have your candidates in mind. Butyou finally wonder: where do I vote? Is it the elementary school covered with signs? The local election office? Did I register to vote absentee and forget about the ballot? Or, am I still registered at my parent’s address?

On Election Day, 50 states spanning 6 time zones run elections. It’s a messy process that may seem confusing, especially to first-time voters. As a highly mobile population that recently turned 18, young adults may not have voted before. They may have no idea where their polling place is. For this reason, it is critically important that young adults remain informed about the electoral process. That’s why we’ve put together an easy to follow voter survival guide to help new voters navigate the voting process.

1) Where do I vote?

Some states have early voting centers. A few states allow you to register to vote on Election Day at your local polling place. Most states, however, require you to vote in-person, at the polling place assigned to your registration address.

Do you know your polling place? Can I Vote? connects you to your state’s online registration database, allowing you to look this information up.

What does this mean for students at college campuses? If you registered to vote at your parent’s address, you must either vote in-person there, or request an absentee ballot. Alternatively, college students may register to vote at their dorm address and vote locally, in their campus community. However, remember that you cannot vote at both locations, as that is voter fraud.

2) How do I register?

This process is relatively simple; thanks to modern technology, the process is streamlined into relatively simple steps. The first step in the process is making sure you meet the registration requirements:

  1. Are you a U.S. citizen?
  2. Do you meet your state’s residency requirements? (You can be homeless and still meet these requirements)
  3. Will you be 18 years old on or before Election Day?

If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, you can register! You will be directed to your state’s online voter registration tool. Alternatively, you may be provided with a PDF document that you must print and mail in order to register.

When registering to vote, please keep these things in mind:

  1. If you live on a college campus and wish to vote in that community, you must use your formal dormitory address and your campus mailing address. (i.e. your dormitory address is where you sleep at night, your mailing address is where you receive your mail)
  2. If you are registering at your parent’s home, use that address to register. Then, you can request an absentee ballot at

There are very specific time limits for registering before all general/primary and special elections. You can find your state’s requirements  here.

3) What is a voter ID?

Hint: It depends. And that’s the problem.

Across the nation, legislatures have enacted voter ID laws that are inconsistent and that vary from state to state. Some states specify what type of IDs are accepted. While other states, like Louisiana, specify what features an ID must include, like a signature field.

This is particularly problematic for students who come to campus from out-of-state: Some states accept all student ID cards, others only student ID cards from publicly-funded institutions. Furthermore, some states accept out-of-state driver’s license, while others do not.

Some important guiding questions are:

  1. Does your state have voter ID requirements?
  2. Are student ID’s acceptable?
    1. Can it be any student ID or must it be issued by a publicly-funded university?
    2. Does your state specify what must be on the student ID? For example: signature, photo, or campus address.
  3. Can students use out-of-state driver’s license?
  4. Does your state have a strict address requirement on the ID? If so, for example, students who register on-campus may not use a driver’s license listing their parent’s home address.

Remember: Some states require your ID to include your voter registration address! That rules out passports, and rules out registering on campus if you don’t have an ID with an address.

Click here to learn more about voter ID laws.

4) Why should I care? Who’s even running this year?

Young people are at a pivotal moment in this country. According to CIRCLE, 24 million youth voted in the November 8 election, at a rate of about 50 percent. We are showing more tendencies to eschew political affiliation, and a hunger for change and progress. Had millennials chosen president on November 8, we would have had a different result.

This was the first Presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act since its passage in 1965. The choices we make as citizens will affect us for years to come. Now, more than ever, young people need to make the decision to show up.

While young people showed a strong turnout in the 2016 presidential race, elections during non-presidential years consistently produce low turnout among our age group. These elections are crucial, as some of the most important issues facing youth are often determined at the local, state, and congressional level, such as student loans, healthcare, campus safety, climate change, among others.

So know your elected officials and their stances. Find out who is planning to run for office, both locally and federally. Participate in civic action or organize a town hall of your own. Register yourself and others to vote. Do whatever you can to participate in the process, because it is up to all of us to build a sustainable future for all.

About The Authors

Led by graduates of our program, the Vote Everywhere Alumni Association promotes the spirit of involvement and participation amongst all Vote Everywhere alumni. Click here to learn more about the Alumni Association.