Voting in elections – where and how to vote

The USA is a democracy, which means citizens vote to decide who represents them. By using your vote, you have a say in choosing who will represent you in your community, in your state, and in the national government.


Man voting at a voting booth
Photo: iStock

Voting is an important part of being a citizen in the USA. Learn where, how, and why to vote.

Who can vote

You cannot vote until you get your citizenship. To vote, citizens must be 18 years old. They must register to vote in their state. If you pretend to be a citizen so you can vote, you will be arrested and maybe imprisoned or deported.

Why should I vote?

Voting is one of the best ways to make a difference in your community. It is your chance to share your opinion. You can help choose representatives to make decisions for your city and country.

Register to vote

Registering to vote means putting your name on the list of voters in your community. You will register online or by mail. If you move, you must register again with your new address. Read advice from an expert about registering to vote in 2020!

You will fill out a form with some basic personal information. There is a deadline to register before each election. Every state has a different deadline. Find the deadline in your state and how to register in your state.

Before you vote

Before you go to vote, you will want to find out about your choices in the election. You may be voting for some offices and people you have not heard about. Here are some ways you can find out about your choices:

  • Look at the websites of the candidates who are running for important positions, such as senators and representatives.
  • Ask your friends, family and community members you trust and respect.
  • Read local news to find out about local issues that may be addressed in your city or state election with a new decision or law you can vote on.
  • Read and watch national news from quality sources to hear candidates speak and to hear what other people say about them.

Political ads and social media are not good choices for balanced news or opinions you can trust.

Where to vote

The place where you vote is called a polling station. Polling stations are usually located in public facilities such as schools, churches, or sports halls. You can use a locator to find your local polling station.

Some states use vote centers as well as or instead of local polling stations. If you live in a state with vote centers, you can choose a center near your work or school instead of near your home. Find out more about vote centers.

If you know that you will not be able to vote in person, you can request an absentee ballot. An absentee ballot is also called a mail-in ballot because you fill the ballot out at home and mail it. This is a good option for people who are away during the election or for people who cannot get to the polling place for other reasons.

When to vote

You can vote at a polling station or vote center on Election Day. But you can also vote before Election Day with an absentee ballot or with early voting. In 2020, states are making it easier to cast a ballot by mail so people do not have to risk infection with COVD-19. Find out all about voting by mail and absentee ballots, and about early voting.

How to vote

If it is your first time voting, you will need to bring proof of residence to show that you live in your home. This can be an ID card, or a utility bill, bank statement or check with your address on it. If you have voted before, you do not need to bring proof of residence, but some states will ask for ID.

A volunteer will ask you your name and show you which booth you can use. A voting booth is a small enclosure. It allows you to have privacy while you are voting. If you cannot speak English, you can bring someone into the booth to help you. In some states, you may be able to get a ballot in your language.

Types of elections

Primaries

A primary is a competition in which political parties choose their candidates for the next general election. The winning candidate runs in the general election against the winning candidate from the other political party or parties. In the USA, the two major political parties are the Democratic party and the Republican party.

General elections

In a general election, voters choose between the winners of the primary elections. A national election is held in November every two years. The presidential election is held in November every four years.

Local elections

Local elections are when voters choose council members, judges, mayors, and other local officials. Every region of a state has different dates for local elections. You can find your state and local election information.

Special elections

Special elections happen when an unexpected event creates a need for a new person in an elected position. For example, there is a special election if someone dies or resigns or is removed from office.

The information on this page comes from the US governmentVote.org, and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice.