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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

I want to vote, but where do I even start? 

First of all, congratulations! Voting is one of the strongest tools we have as citizens to see the change we want in the world. Exercising your rights is an important part of democracy, but it can seem daunting, especially for first-time voters. This article will help guide you through the voting process and give you all the tools necessary to make an informed decision. 

Am I registered to vote? 

If you’re not sure if you’ve registered to vote or if you need to register for the very first time, this website has you covered! Simply follow this link and click on the “Register to Vote” or “Voter Registration Status” icons to register or confirm your voting registration. This website will also give you helpful information on where your nearby polling place is, valid forms of identification, and more. While the deadline to vote in the primary may have already passed in some states, there is still plenty of time to register for the general election in November! To find out the deadlines for primary and general election votes, click here and enter your state. 

What’s the difference between primaries and general elections?

Wait, how many times do I have to vote? In 2020, there are going to be multiple elections for different stages of the presidential race. A primary election will allow you to cast your vote for who you want to be that party’s nominee. This will help narrow down the field of candidates until one is chosen to represent the party. In the general election, the nominees from the Republican, Democratic, and other parties will be on the ballot. Whoever wins the most electoral votes on November 3rd will become the next president of the United States! For a more in-depth explanation, click here.

Voting day sign with stickers
Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

When is my state’s primary? 

For a helpful and easy schedule of primary dates, caucuses, debates, and more, check out this 2020 Presidential Primary Election Calander from the New York Times. This article also has updates on delegates up for grabs, who won where, and even basic information on which states matter a lot and why. 

What if I’m not home to vote? 

Let’s say you’re at an out-of-state school, or even studying overseas (jealous!). Not to worry! Absentee ballots have you covered. Click here to request an absentee ballot. Simply fill out the basic information, then you’ll receive an email with your ballot in seconds. Complete the form, then print and send it off to the address provided! If you qualify, a form will be sent back to you via mail and you can cast your vote then. If you’re studying abroad, you can find more useful instructions here

For more information, check-in with your Local Election Official. Again, the deadline for some primary absentee ballots may have already passed, but don’t worry! You can still plan ahead for the next elections in your state. Check out dates for early voting and information for voters with disabilities, illness, and more here

Who’s even running? 

Although the field has slimmed down substantially since the start of the race, there are still lots of candidates running for president. For a helpful guide to who is still in the race and their background, check out this interactive guide from the New York Times

With so many candidates vying for the Democratic nomination it can be hard to remember who’s who, or what they even stand for. Check out “We’re asking 2020 Democrats on where they stand on key issues” from the Washington Post.

Politics causes so much fighting between family members and friends. Why is all this so important anyway? 

Politics can be a touchy subject, it involves people’s personal, economic, religious, and social morals, which don’t always agree. The anger sometimes caused by politics can make you want to ignore it altogether. In an age of constant news, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, uneducated or left behind. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a political junkie to be an active and informed citizen. Simply reading up on who’s who and hearing the occasional highlight from a debate can be enough. Figure out what’s important to you and why. What do you want to change? Who else is fighting for that change? 

Remember, political opinions can vary, but that does not make you wrong. Life isn’t black and white, and lots of questions don’t have simple answers. Stay educated! Talking about politics doesn’t have to end in screams! Keep an open mind and hear the experiences from those around you, and people who you may not know. 

And no matter who you vote for in 2020, exercising your right to vote is part of what makes our democracy strong. So get out there and vote for the change you want to see!

Polling Station
Elliot Stallion

All images are courtesy of the Her Campus Media Library. 

Katherine Scott

U Mass Amherst '21

Katherine is an honors double major in Journalism and Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She hopes to one day combine her love of activist writing and politics to become a host of her own podcast. When she's not writing, Katherine loves to spend her time traveling, going to the theatre, and watching Star Wars (for the 100th time). Follow her on Instagram @_katiescott17
Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst