Laws and regulations around voting are different in almost every state. It can be confusing figuring out how to register to vote, where to vote and other information to help you navigate Election Day. We’ve pulled together some common voting questions to help make the process a little bit easier.
Still have questions? You can now get answers to your voting questions answered by our librarians over our online chat or via email.
This is my first time voting in an election. What do I need to do?
First, you should make sure you’re eligible to vote! The voting age in the United States is 18, however each state has different rules on when exactly you can register to vote. For example, in North Carolina, you can preregister to vote at 16 and vote in a primary election at 17 if you will be 18 at the time of the general election.
Next, you need to make sure you’re registered to vote. See the next section for details.
How do I register to vote?
In order to vote in primary and general elections, you must be registered to vote. In some states, if you have a license or state ID you might have automatically been registered to vote. In most states, you can register to vote online, by mail or in person. You only need to register once. If you registered last year, you don’t need to register again.
However, if you have had a change of address, you will need to submit a new voter registration.
In North Carolina, you can register to vote online if you have a driver’s license. You can also register to vote in person at your local board of elections or fill out an application and mail it in.
If you’re planning on voting in a different state, you can learn about their voter registration requirements.
How do I check to see if I’m registered?
You can check online to see if you’re registered to vote. In North Carolina, you can use the State Board of Elections’ voter registration lookup tool. For other states, you can check on your voter registration online here.
What will be on my ballot?
When you go to vote, your ballot will contain several things you can vote on depending on your precinct. In North Carolina, if you are already registered to vote, you can preview your ballot online. If you are not registered to vote yet or are registered outside of North Carolina, you can use your address to look up the races happening in your district here.
Can I request an absentee ballot? If so, how do I do it?
Each state has different requirements for requesting absentee ballots, also known as mail-in ballots. In North Carolina, anyone can request an absentee ballot. Learn more about the different requirements each state has about requesting an absentee ballot here or through American University’s LibGuide on requesting ballots by state.
For the 2020 Election, some states have temporarily changed their rules for voting via absentee ballot. In most states, if you are eligible to vote by absentee ballot, you will need to request an absentee ballot from your local board of elections. For those who plan to vote by absentee ballot in North Carolina, the application can be found here. Requests for North Carolina absentee ballots must be returned by mail or in person to your local board of elections office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27, in order to vote in the November election. Make note: if you plan on dropping off your absentee ballot request to your local board of elections, there are rules about who can make that request for you, as well as about who can return your absentee ballot.
If you are already registered to vote in North Carolina, you can also request your absentee ballot online.
If you plan on voting by absentee ballot in a state other than North Carolina, you can find your local board of elections office here.
How do I return my absentee/mail-in ballot?
Across the United States, you can return your absentee ballot by mail. You’ll need to send it to your local board of elections office. And yes, you’ll need a stamp.
In North Carolina, you can also drop off your ballot in-person to your local board of elections office or drop it off to an early voting site in your county. If you choose to drop off your ballot, be sure to check the rules about who can return your absentee ballot.
All ballots must be turned in by Election Day, which falls on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
How do I find the address of my local board of elections?
Where do I go to vote?
Your polling place is based on the address you used to register to vote. If you plan on voting in person on Election Day, you will need to go to your assigned polling place. For those registered in North Carolina, you can find your assigned polling location here.
For those planning on voting on Election Day in other states, you can look up your polling place here.
In North Carolina, if you decide to vote early, you can go to any early voting location in the county you are registered in. You can see a list of all North Carolina early voting locations here.
What is early voting?
Most states allow voters to vote in the days or weeks prior to Election Day. See the state-by-state breakdown of early voting rules, start dates and end dates here.
In North Carolina, you can early vote Thursday, October 15, 2020, to Saturday, October 31, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live. You can find the locations and hours of operation of early voting sites across the state here.
How can I find my polling place?
Do I need to bring my ID to vote?
Voter ID laws vary state by state. In North Carolina, if you are registered to vote, you do not need to show your ID or any other form of documentation to receive your ballot.
You can check if your state requires identification to vote here.
However, if you are planning on registering to vote on the same day as casting your ballot, most states require some form of proof of residency. See the next section for more details.
Can I register and then vote at the same time?
It depends on where you plan on casting your ballot. In 21 states and in the District of Columbia, you can register to vote and cast your ballot at the same time. You can see if your state participates in same-day registration here.
In North Carolina, you can register to vote and then cast your ballot at any early voting location in your county of residence during the early voting period. The early voting period runs from Thursday, October 15, 2020, to Saturday, October 31, 2020. You will need some form of proof of residency, such as:
- A North Carolina driver’s license.
- Other photo identification issued by a government agency. Any government-issued photo ID is acceptable, provided that the card includes the voter’s current name and address.
- A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document showing the voter’s name and address.
- A current college/university photo identification card paired with proof of campus habitation.
How can I learn more about the candidates and issues on my ballot?
You need to find reliable sources of information for researching candidates. Check out our AdULting guide on keeping up with candidates and local elections to start your research.