Laws and regulations around voting are different in almost every state. It can be confusing to figure 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 easier.
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This is my first time voting in an election. What do I need to do?
Firstly, 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. Mail-in, in person at the board of elections, and online voter registration ends on February 9, 2024. If you miss that date, that’s ok! You can also register to vote during early voting, which takes place from Feb. 15, 2024 to March 2, 2024.
Next, you need to make sure you’re registered to vote. See the next section for details.
How do I register to vote?
The process varies by state.
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, in most states, if your address has changed, 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. Any eligible voter can register in person at your local Board of Elections or fill out an application and mail it in.
You can learn about each state’s voter registration requirements here.
How do I check to see if I’m registered?
You can check to see if you’re registered to vote online. 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.
If you are already registered to vote in North Carolina, you can request your absentee ballot online. You must complete the absentee ballot request by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. For more details on how to submit your N.C. absentee ballot, see the NCBOE’s website here.
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. And starting this year, you’ll also need a copy of a photo ID to send along with your ballot. If you don’t have a photo ID, see our section “Do I need to bring an ID to vote” below
In North Carolina, you can also drop off your ballot in –person to your local board of elections office or drop it off at an early voting site in your county. If you choose to drop off your ballot, you’ll need to do it yourself. (In other words, you can’t send a friend or family member to do it for you.)
All ballots must be turned in by Election Day, which falls on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
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 the weeks leading up to Election Day.
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 between Thursday, October 20, 2022, and Saturday, November 5, 2022, 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 by state. In North Carolina, if you are registered to vote, you must show a photo ID to cast your ballot.
Approved IDs include:
- North Carolina driver’s license
- State ID from the NCDMV (also called “non-operator ID”)
- Driver’s license or non-driver ID from another state, District of Columbia, or U.S. territory (only if voter registered in North Carolina within 90 days of the election)
- U.S. Passport or U.S. Passport card
- North Carolina voter photo ID card issued by a county board of elections (see Get a Free Voter Photo ID).
- College or university student ID approved by the State Board of Elections
- State or local government or charter school employee ID approved by the State Board of Elections
UNC One Cards count as valid photo IDs in North Carolina. You can see the full list of school IDs approved for voting here.
However, there are some exceptions to the Voter ID law that can allow you to vote if you do not have a valid form of photo ID. When voting (in-person or by absentee ballot), you may fill out a “ID Exception Form” and still cast your ballot.
You will have to choose a from one of the permitted exceptions below:
- The voter has a “reasonable impediment” to showing photo ID. This means that something is preventing the voter from showing ID. The voter must provide their reason by selecting from the following choices on the form.
- Lack of transportation
- Disability or illness
- Lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain ID
- Work or school schedule
- Family responsibilities
- Photo ID is lost, stolen, or misplaced
- Applied for photo ID but have not received it
- (For mail voters only) Unable to attach a copy of photo ID (Voter must include driver’s license number or last four digits of Social Security number)
- Other reasonable impediment (if selected, the voter must write the reason on the form)
- State or federal law prohibits voter from listing the reason
- The voter has a religious objection to being photographed.
- The voter was a victim of a natural disaster within 100 days before Election Day that resulted in a disaster declaration by the President of the United States or the Governor of North Carolina.
You can check all state Voter ID requirements here: state requires identification to vote here.
Can I register and then vote at the same time?
You may be able to, depending 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 February 15, 2024 to March 2, 2024. 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.
All voters who use same-day registration also will be asked to show an acceptable form of photo identification when they check in to vote. See our “Do I need to bring my ID to vote” section above.
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 guide on keeping up with candidates and local elections to start your research.