Election Day is Fast Approaching

Posted October 1, 2009 in Government by

The midterm elections are just a few weeks away. Voters across the country will be going to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect:

  • Governors in New Jersey, Virginia and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • State legislators in New Jersey, Virginia and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Mayors in Boston, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, Seattle and many smaller towns
  • Representatives to the US Congress in California and New York
  • Representatives to many city and county government positions, school boards and special districts across the country

In addition, many ballots will contain referendums and citizen initiatives.

Registering to Vote

If you’re not registered to vote, the deadline to register is rapidly approaching. You’ll need to register if you’ve never previously registered or if you’ve moved since you last registered to vote.

To vote in a federal election, you must:

  • Be a US citizen
  • Be a resident of the state in which you are registered to vote
  • Meet your state’s minimum age requirement (usually 18 years old at the time of the election or 18 years old at least 30 days before the election)

Some states also ban you from voting if you’ve been convicted of a felony or if a court has judged you to be mentally incompetent.

It’s important to remember that each state has different registration rules. While some states may allow you to register on the day of the election, most states require you to register at least 30 days before the election. Some states allow you to register by mail and others require you to register in person. And some states will allow you to vote by absentee ballot immediately after you register, but others will require you to vote in person in the first election after you register.

Absentee Voting

If you’re unable to vote in person on Election Day, you may be able to vote by absentee ballot or during your state’s early voting period.

In recent years, many states have started to offer early voting, which enables registered voters to cast their ballots, in person, at designated sites for several weeks prior to the election. This reduces the lines on Election Day, and enables you to vote at a date and time that is convenient to you.

Students, active military personnel and other people who will be unavailable to vote on Election Day or during the early voting period should request an absentee ballot. This mail-in ballot allows you to vote in advance if you’re unable to vote in person at a polling place. You can request an absentee ballot from your local election officials.

Know the Issues

Almost everyone who’s ever voted has had the experience of looking at a ballot and being confronted with a long list of unfamiliar names and confusing referendum questions about obscure issues. While you may have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the major candidates and their platforms, it’s more difficult to learn about the candidates for lesser-known positions.

Many local and state bar associations will evaluate the candidates for elected legal positions, such as judges and attorney general. Other groups, such as newspapers, as well as partisan and non-partisan organizations, will also publish printed or online candidate guides to help you get a better sense of the candidates, their qualifications and their positions on important issues. If you are relying on these guides, it’s important to understand any biases of the organization that has compiled it.

Before heading to the polls, review a sample ballot–which should be available from local election officials–so that you know what votes you’ll be casting. You’re allowed to bring written materials into the voting booth with you, so consider filling out the sample ballot so you can copy your answers when you’re casting your official vote.

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