3 Election Day Laws to Know
The first Tuesday in November is Election Day, and while most of the country is looking forward to next year's presidential election, many Americans are headed to the polls for everything from state laws to local ballot initiatives. For most of us, a vote has the most impact if it involves local elections. While general elections are vital to the country's health, local elections generally also play a large role in determining the laws that govern our day-to-day lives. Voting matters every year.
Voting laws in the United States have a long, storied, and sometime sordid history, from the "Vote early and vote often" days of the early 1900s, to Bush v. Gore in 2000, to unfounded claims of election fraud in the 2020 election. States typically have a lot of authority to create and enforce election laws, so states will differ in specific requirements. Federal law does not often play a large role in elections. Each state's secretary of state is responsible for overseeing and enforcing election laws.
Here are three voting and election laws you may need to know on your way to the polls.
- How You Can Vote. Voting rights have become a hot-button issue. The bottom line is that if you're 18 and a U.S. a citizen, you can most likely vote. States may add a couple other restrictions like no felony convictions or a photo ID requirement, usually in the form of a driver's license or other government-issued ID. However, you do not have to give out your social security number, driver's license number, or other sensitive information. Beware of scams or voter intimidation on election day. You also must be registered to vote, which, depending on your state of residence, can be its own adventure. State laws vary wildly when it comes to registration applications, registration deadlines, and registration information required. Be sure to check your state laws so you know where, when, and how to register to vote. While there may appear to obstacles between you and the ballot box, you should know that you have the right to vote and you should exercise that right.
- Mail Ballots. Most states allow absentee ballots if you cannot vote in person, and in some states registered voters can vote by mail without needing a reason. Note that absentee voting and voting by mail are not necessarily the same thing. For example, some states have all mail-in voting, and citizens receive ballots without needing to request them. Other states only allow absentee (i.e. mail) voting if there is a reason you cannot vote at your polling station, such as overseas duty or a disability.
- No One Can Stop You. There are a few common election law violations you may want to keep an eye out for on Election Day. First, make sure you're familiar with your state's voter ID laws. These laws have been changing recently and could keep you from voting. Second, polling places must provide reasonable accommodations for the disabled and language accommodations for those who are not fully literate in English, so if you're having trouble at your polling place, let someone know. Third, campaigns can bombard you with ads in the run-up to an election, but there are prohibitions on campaigning at the polls. State campaign laws vary, but make sure no one is trying to influence you while you're actually voting.
Endless campaign ads and the non-stop political rhetoric can be tiring. But voting gives everyone a say in our local, state, and national elections. Make sure you get to the polls and cast your vote on Election Day. You can also read more about your state's laws and find additional information about voting laws and rights on FindLaw's voting rights section.
- Voting Laws and Resources (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Voter Intimidation: What Is It and What to Do (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Am I Registered to Vote? How to Find Out. (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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