FAQ: High school students ask about voting

Why does voting feel so complicated for new, first time-voters? For one, each state runs its elections, and each has a unique process. Two, the media is continually throwing out headlines that confuse us - vote by mail is safe, vote by mail has security risks. And three, processes are always changing! How do we cut through the noise to get accurate info on voting? IGNITE asked high school students what they wanted to know about registering to vote and voting for the first time. Here's what they wanted to know and some answers from experts.

How do we know who to vote for? Where can we learn about the candidates? 

It is essential to be informed about whose on the ballot. Voters should always research candidates to learn about their policy goals if elected. Generally, voters choose candidates with ideologies similar to their own. You can visit candidates' websites or ballotready.org, which tells you what offices are up for election. Vote Smart is another great resource that has candidates' voting records and positions. Also, most local papers have a rundown of the candidates, so be sure to check regularly for updates on local elections. 

How do we learn about the voting process/system?

All elected offices are elected through direct election, except for the president. The president is elected through the electoral college, which you can learn about here. As far as state and local elections are concerned, you can learn about who is up for election and how the voting process works here. If you want a broader rundown of how government and elections work, get more information here

Where do I register to vote? Is there an online registration process?

You can register to vote online! Text IGNITE to 33777 to get one-on-one help voting. Each state has different deadlines, so be sure to register ASAP! 

Where do I vote? 

Due to COVID-19, it is safer to vote by mail (also known as absentee voting). However, you can still vote in-person. Text IGNITE to 33777 to request an absentee ballot or to find your polling place. You can also contact your local county Board of Elections; they can give you more information on where you can vote. 

Does my vote even matter or make a difference?

Yes! Your vote always matters, especially in local elections! All elected positions are voted into office through direct election, except for the president. Only 100 votes could elect your state representative! Also, where voter turnout is low, the same politicians remain in office year after year simply because they have enough supporters to win, even if most of their constituents don't like them. If you don't vote, you are losing your chance to choose who you want to represent you in Congress or City Council. The election for president is a bit different; the electoral college system essentially means that states with larger populations have more power. But, each vote still matters! 

When I go to college, do I vote in the state I go to school in or my home state? 

If you attend college out-of-state, you can choose where you want to vote. If you choose to vote in your home state, you should send in an absentee ballot. If you choose to vote in the state where you are going to school, you should make sure you have residency status and are registered to vote in that state. Most colleges have information in the student activities or student life office, so you can also check to see if they have additional tips or guidelines. Also, if you are registering in person, make sure you bring everything you need. You can only be registered to vote in one state, so make sure you decide which state you want to vote in and take the steps necessary to register and vote. 

Do absentee ballots take longer and how do I complete one? 

Absentee ballots may take longer since they are sent through the mail. If you follow your state's process, you can definitely receive and return your ballot in time. The National Association of Secretaries of State has a directory available, which provides you specific instructions for your state. or text IGNITE to 33777 to request an absentee ballot. Instructions on how to complete the ballot will usually arrive at your address with the absentee ballot.  

What is the difference between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot?

Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots are basically the same things. Every US state allows mail-in, absentee voting, but typically only under certain circumstances. For example, in the past, many states only allowed you to get an absentee ballot if you were deployed with the US armed forces, were going to be out of town on Election Day or were ill. Amid the pandemic, however, at least 35 states have changed their mail-in absentee voting policies, allowing all voters to apply for an absentee ballot to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. For more information, you can click here

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