As the 2018 midterm elections grow closer, many teenagers are beginning to think about registering to vote for the first time. Voting is one of the fundamental rights that (most) U.S. citizens hold. It is important that those who have the option to vote express their voices and opinions.
So, what are the steps and requirements? And how can I pre-register if I’m under 18?
The most basic answer is that voting registration steps differ greatly from state to state. The best way to find your state’s election rules is to contact your state election office. Despite small nuances, however, every state except North Dakota requires voters to register.
To register in person, you can visit your local election office, the DMV, the Armed Services Recruitment Center or local assistance offices such as SNAP or WIC. Forms must be filled out in blue or black ink. Many states also permit voters to register online at Vote.gov, a site that provides a simple step-by-step process to register or pre-register to vote.
You cannot vote if you are not a U.S. citizen, have a felony charge (in most states), are mental incompetent (in most states) or are under 18. While poll workers are not allowed to deny anyone a registration form, it is a deportable offense for undocumented immigrants to register to vote.
If you’re under 16 or 17 but want to stay politically active, you can pre-register to vote. Pre-registration allows teenagers to be eligible to vote immediately when they turn 18 without having to go through the process a second time. You can pre-register anywhere regular registration is available: simply check the “Under 18” box on the form you receive. You can also pre-register online at Vote.gov. If you choose to pre-register, however, consider what state you register in: because of the electoral college, your vote could matter more depending on where you go to college. For example, if you live in a large and reliably blue or red state such as California or Texas and end up going to college in a swing state like Pennsylvania, Florida or Wisconsin, your ballot will have more sway if you vote as a resident of your new state.
If you want to be even more politically active, you can hold voting registration drives at your school. You do not have to be 18 to do this: it’s an excellent way to support our democracy if you can’t vote. While guidelines vary for each state, many have required training for volunteers. It is helpful to set specific goals for how many people you want to register and to actively reach out to people rather than waiting for them to come to you.
Regardless of how you stay active this election season, remember to stay vigilant and engaged. As the next generation steps up to the political plate, it is our turn to create the world we want to live in.
Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images