The United States is a democracy. Citizens can vote to decide who governs them and make decisions on their behalf. Voting gives you a say in who will represent you in your local community, state, and national government.
You are not required by law to vote but it is considered a civic duty. Voting is an important part of being a citizen in the USA. It is an opportunity to share your opinion and make a difference in your community. You can help choose representatives that stand up for causes you believe in and care about.
As an immigrant, your voice can be heard and you can be part of democracy. Voting is an important reason to become a citizen. When you vote, you can pick candidates aligned with your values, culture, and views.
See NPNA and ACLU’s helpful voter guides in different languages.
|Voting requirements and options vary by state. You can look up your state information on USA.gov and VOTE411.|
Who can vote
You must be a U.S. citizen and 18 years old to be eligible to vote in national elections. You also need to be registered to vote in your state (unless you live in North Dakota).
Some cities allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. It is important to check before registering. People who lie to be able to vote can face serious consequences, including arrest and even deportation.
Depending on your state, some people who have been convicted of a felony may not be able to vote.
Register to vote
Registering to vote means putting your name on the list of voters in your community. You will need to register online or by mail. If you move, you must register again with your new address.
You will fill out a form with some basic personal information. You will have to register by a deadline to vote in a particular election. The deadline varies by state.
You can also register to vote when getting a driver’s license or public assistance. Check if you are already registered.
Deciding your vote
Before you vote, you will want to learn more about your choices. You may be voting for candidates, issues, or positions you have not heard about. Here are some ways you can get informed:
- Search for voter information guides on your state’s website.
- Look at the candidate websites to see where they stand on issues.
- Ask trusted friends, family, and community members.
- Attend local town hall meetings and community debates.
- Check for voting suggestions from organizations that support rights that are important to you.
- Read and watch trusted news to find out about the issues and hear candidates speak or debate.
- Review “What’s on your ballot” on VOTE411.
Political ads and social media are typically not good choices for balanced news or opinions you can trust.
Where to vote
The place where you cast your ballot is called a polling station or polling location. Polling stations are usually located in public facilities such as schools, churches, or sports halls. Find your local polling place.
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. Learn more about vote centers.
Vote by mail
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 in. Some states require certain reasons to request one. This is often a good option for seniors and people with disabilities.
If you are a U.S. citizen overseas, you can still request a ballot.
When to vote
You can vote at a polling station or vote center on Election Day. Be prepared for potentially long waits at polling stations. In many states, you can also vote before Election Day with an absentee ballot or with early voting. In 2020, many states made it easier to cast a ballot by mail so people do not have to risk infection with COVID-19.
How to vote in person
At your polling station, a volunteer will ask you for your name and possible identification. Identification rules vary by state. Some polling stations may ask for your driver’s license, passport, or utility bill.
The volunteer will show you which booth you can use. A voting booth is a small enclosure. It allows you to have privacy while you are voting.
Know your rights
If you are disabled, The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that polling stations ensure that you can access and use their facilities.
If you cannot speak or read English well, you can bring someone to help you vote. In some counties, you may be able to get a ballot in your language.
If they can’t find your name, you can ask for a provisional ballot.
If the poll closes while you are still in line, you have the right to stay and vote.
If someone is intimidating or threatening you, know that it is illegal and should be reported.
If you have any problems on election day, you can call an election protection hotline:
- English: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
- Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
- Asian multilingual: 1-888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
- Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)
Learn more about voter rights.
Helping others in your community register to vote is a great way to get involved. It is also a way to connect with new people. You can look for opportunities with local organizations, such as:
- League of Women Voters
- Movement Voter Project list
- NPNA New American Voters
- Rock The Vote
- Voto Latino
- When We All Vote
You can also volunteer to work at the polls.
Types of elections
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 parties.
In the USA, the two major political parties are the Democratic party and the Republican party.
General elections are held in November. Voters choose between the winner of the primary election for local, state, and federal officials.
Presidential elections happen every four years. The next presidential election is on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
Congressional elections happen every two years. Voters choose senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Midterm elections are the congressional election between presidential 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. Find your state and local election information.
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, resigns, or is removed from office.
The information on this page comes from USA.gov, vote.org, ACLU, 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.