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Guess what time it is! You guessed it, we’re fast approaching the 2018 midterm general elections here in the United States, and with the election cycle comes voting! Hopefully, you’ve registered to vote in your state. If you’ve already sent in your absentee ballot or have registered to vote early or online, then good job! You’re ahead of the game. But for those of you who have to vote in person on November 6th – don’t worry, we’ve got your back! We here at Her Campus NYU have put together a nifty, completely unbiased, non-partisan guide to make sure that you’ll be prepared to vote with confidence on November 6th!
1. A Little Review:
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You might be wondering why the midterms are important. The midterm elections are federal and state elections that occur in between presidential elections. This means that all 435 seats of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as some seats in the Senate, are up for grabs. Not only are the midterm elections important on a federal level, but there are also a bunch of really important local and state level positions (think attorney general, governor, and seats in state legislature) that are decided through voting in the midterms as well! So why all the fuss over this midterm election cycle? One reason is that many political experts anticipate that this election could possibly “flip” the House of Representatives and the Senate – meaning that through electing certain candidates there could be a shift in the amount of power Democrats and Republicans have in be able to make decisions on a national level.
2. Your Vote, Your Voice!
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So how exactly does voting in the midterm elections affect you? Great question! Not only is voting a great opportunity to choose who represents your state on a national level but by electing candidates who are representative of your values and seek to solve issues that you care about, you are able to create change that affects not only you but everyone who lives in your state! Voting is one of the only times where we have direct influence over political progress in the United States, which is why there is so much pressure put on voters to vote for a certain candidate or in support of a particular political party. But remember: your vote is yours, and yours only – use it make your voice heard through voting for whoever you feel is the best candidate to bring about the change you want to see!
3. Make Sure You’re Registered:
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This step might seem a little obvious, but from first-time voters to voting pros, it’s a good idea for everyone to check their voter registration status. Checking your registration status is a way to make sure that all of the information you provided (such as your political party affiliation and address) are correct before you get to your polling place on November 6th. This is an especially good idea if you’ve moved to a different state or district or you’ve registered to vote through your college campus because some states are stricter than others about registration information being consistent. Checking your registration status only takes a few seconds, so even if you’re completely sure that you’re registered (we believe you!) it’s always good to double check. On the off chance that you appear at your polling place and your name isn’t on the list, make sure to ask for an affidavit ballot (we’ll explain how this works in a little bit).
4. Find Your Polling Place:
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So you’ve double checked your voter registration status and you’re good to go. The next step is to figure out the polling place that you will have to go to in order to cast your vote, as well as the districts that you will be voting in. Not every state is broken up into voting districts, but they are basically a way for state and local governments to geographically break down a state using a number or coding system. This system helps voters figure out who they can vote for as there is a different set of candidates running for office in each district. An example of would be how there are a different set of candidates on the ballot for every congressional and senatorial district in a state. First-time voters in states like New York are sent letters in the mail detailing their districts and polling places, but if you’re confused as to where your polling place is or what districts you will be voting in, you can find that info online using the address you registered with. Also important to note: even if you’ve been voting using the same polling place for years, polling places are subject to change. It might be a good idea to double check your polling place so you aren’t blind sighted on election day.
5. Do Some Research:
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Now you know your polling place as well as the districts you are in. Great! It’s the perfect time to start doing some research on the candidates that will be on your ballot! If the word “research” is giving you stress flashbacks to your last midterm exam, don’t worry! – there are a ton of online resources that you can use to get all the information you need to feel confident and informed. Many states have “voter guides” that are designed to provide voters a list of the candidates that will be up for election in their districts. These guides can be found by going to the “Board of Elections” website for your particular state. Once you have your list, it’s always best to go to each individual candidate’s website. This is the best way to get accurate information on a candidate’s background as well as a full layout of their “platform” – their stances on certain issues as well as how they would rectify those issues if they were elected into office. Most candidates will be running on similarly structured platforms, so it should be easy to compare and contrast different viewpoints to find the candidate that best suits your needs and interests.
6. Hit The Polls!
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It’s November 6th – election day has arrived! You’ve got a list of candidates you want to vote for and you know the address of your polling place. You’re almost there! The most important step on election day is actually getting to the polls to vote. This might sound like the simplest part, but many people who register to vote end up not actually casting their ballot due to issues such as not being able to find their polling place, or not having enough time in their day to cast their ballot. The easiest way to prevent any of these issues from getting in the way of your ability to vote is to plan. One of the easiest ways to plan is to make sure that you know how to get to your polling place. Double-check directions and if you will be using a system of public transportation, make sure to compensate for any delays or route changes. Most polling places will have signs set up to help voters find their way, so be on the lookout. Another element you can plan for is when on election day you will be voting. Every state has a different window of time available for voters to vote, but you can check the hours for your polling place online. Depending on when you decide to go vote, be prepared to wait in line. Use the time to listen to a podcast, text your family and friends to make sure they vote or meet your fellow voters!
7. Know Your Rights:
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You’ve been dutifully waiting in line, made friends with Democrats and Republicans alike, and you’re finally about to vote. This is where it’s really important to remember that you have voting rights that protect your right to vote. These rights take form in the “Help America Vote Act.” Part of this law requires “affidavit ballots,” also known as “provisional ballots.” These ballots can be used when someone believes themselves eligible to vote, but for some reason cannot submit a regular ballot. For example, if you are registered to vote but your name is not on the list at your polling place, you can request to vote using a provisional ballot. One issue that some voters have been facing is not having the right identification documents to vote. Be aware that even if you don’t have the right kind of ID, you can still request an affidavit ballot. Every state has a different set of policies regarding voting (for example, New York has no voter ID restrictions whereas New Hampshire does) but election officials are required to work within the framework of voter protection laws. If you feel like you were treated in a way that negatively affected your ability to vote or infringed on your voting rights, you can call “The Election Protection Hotline.” This is a free, nonpartisan service that allows voters to report issues and get details on how to resolve the particular issue they are facing on election day.
8. Put Your Phone Away:
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Once you have been given a ballot and are in a voting booth, put your cell phone as well as all of your other media devices away! As ridiculous as this rule might be in the age of social media, it’s a rule you don’t want to break. Certain states like New York and Pennsylvania have instituted a ban on taking selfies in voting booths and most election officials frown upon using a smartphone while in the voting booth or while in possession of a ballot. There are a variety of reasons for why phones aren’t allowed in the voting booth – ranging from preventing voter intimidation to protecting voter privacy – but the bottom line is that it’s probably best to put that phone away if you want to avoid any kind of reprimand or punishment. Each state has varying punishments ranging from warnings to fines to imprisonment, but If you want to know exactly what your state’s policy is on phone or camera use in the voting booth, you should look to the Board of Electors in your state. All in all, we know those “I Voted!” stickers are super cool, but we recommend waiting until you are outside of your polling place to snap a selfie with it.
9. Yayyyyyy! You Voted!
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You’ve registered to vote, done your research, cast your ballot at your polling place, and now have a super fancy “I Voted!” sticker to prove it! Congratulations: you just voted in the 2018 midterm elections! You now have permission to brag to everyone about doing your civic duty, just make sure not to share anyone else’s choice of candidates if they don’t want you to – some people like to keep that stuff private until after the election is over. Many stores and restaurants offer discounts and special deals to those who have “I Voted” stickers, so wear it proudly! Make sure to make use of those deals and discounts by going out with your friends – regardless of their political affiliations. If you know anyone who might be having difficulties figuring out how to vote on election day, make sure to help them out as well using your knowledge as a master voter! One final tip: just remember that no matter which candidate you voted for or what political party you identify with, be proud that you’ve done your part to make the United States a more democratic nation for everyone.