Election FAQs

What kinds of elections are there?

There are primary elections, general elections, and special elections. A general election is an election in which candidates are elected to offices. This is in contrast to a primary election, which is used either to narrow the field of candidates for a given elective office or to determine the nominees for political parties in advance of a general election.

 

General elections occur at local (municipal and county), state, and federal levels, and typically occur at regular intervals. In some cases, elections may occur at irregular times (special elections), such as to elect a replacement for a seat vacated due to death, resignation, or removal from office.

How old do I have to be to vote?

You must be 18 years old to vote in a federal general election. However, cities are beginning to extend voting rights by lowering the age requirement to 16 or 17 for municipal elections and in some states, you can vote in the federal primary election if you are 17 and will be 18 by the general election. Check with your local election office to see what the rules are in your area.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to vote?
Yes, you must be a naturally born or fully naturalized U.S. citizen to vote in federal elections. However, cities are beginning to extend voting rights to non-U.S. citizens for municipal elections.
Does my vote matter? I live in a red/blue state and I already know the outcome.

Yes! You live in a democracy. Voting is one of your most precious American rights.

  • Your vote always counts. Not just in close elections. In every election at every level – municipal, county, state, and federal.
  • You’re only one person, but so is everybody else who votes. If millions of people stay home because they think their votes don’t count, the people who do turn out to vote become much more powerful. Are their voices really more important than yours?
  • Vote ratios matter. Even if you live in a state that swings one way or another, the ratio by which the candidates win or lose matters. A landslide win makes for a more powerful politician than one who barely squeaks by. Your vote can either help keep that power in check or give it an extra boost.
Do I have to register before I can vote?

Yes, in every state except North Dakota. Voter registration is the process whereby citizens register with election officials in order to become eligible to vote. Voter registration methods vary by state and can include the following: registering in person at state government agency offices, online, by mail, and through voter registration drives sponsored by non-government entities. Most states have registration deadlines, however, some allow for same-day registration (meaning you can register right before you vote).

 

The laws vary by state so we suggest that you review your state’s election office website or your state’s voter guide

Do I have to register and vote where I go to college?

No. You can register using your permanent (home) address or your local (college) address.

 

The laws vary by state so we suggest that you review your state’s election office website or your state’s voter guide.

Can I use my college ID to register and/or vote if an ID is required?

It might be possible, but the laws vary by state so we suggest that you review your state’s election office website or your state’s voter guide. When in doubt, a drivers license or non-driving ID that has an address that matches the address on your registration is good to bring with you to the polling place.

Can I be registered to vote in more than one state?

Yes, however, it is highly recommended that you are not, and you cannot vote in more than one state in a given election. When you register in a new state, it is best to cancel your registration in the prior state, and you should vote where you most recently registered.

Do I have to re-register to vote every time I move?

Yes, you must re-register every time you have a new address. You must be a resident of the jurisdiction in order to be eligible to vote in that jurisdiction. In other words, where you go to vote (the polling location) is determined by the address with which you register

Will registering to vote where I go to college affect my federal financial aid and/or scholarships?

It should not. This incorrect information is often shared to prevent college students from voting locally (at college). Where you register to vote will definitely not affect your federal financial aid (e.g., Stafford loans) and we suggest that you contact your scholarship provider to confirm if the same is true for your scholarships.

Can I vote if I am studying abroad or traveling outside the country?

Yes. And you should. The information you need can be found on this document provided by the U.S. Vote Foundation’s Overseas Vote initiative.

What is absentee voting?

Absentee voting is voting that does not happen in person on Election Day but instead occurs another way—usually by mail. All states allow for some form of absentee balloting. Some states require voters to provide a valid excuse to vote absentee, while others allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot. It is important to note that in some states, first-time voters may not have the option to vote absentee.  Learn more and request an absentee ballot here.

What is early voting?

Early voting permits citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. Learn more and find out if you can vote early here.