First-time voter? Here’s what you need to know

National

(NEXSTAR) — Election Day is just over a month away, and many people will be voting for the first time or for the first time in a while.

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If you are a U.S. citizen, meet your state’s requirements and will be 18 years old by Nov. 3, you are likely eligible to vote in this year’s general election. Here’s a checklist that will help you through the process.

Get registered.

It only takes a few minutes to get registered to vote, and you must do it before your state’s deadline. You can register at your local election office, online or by using the national mail voter registration form.

Online voting is available in 40 states plus the District of Columbia.

You also may be able to register at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, at armed forces recruitment centers or at state and county public assistance offices, such as SNAP/food stamps and WIC.

For U.S. citizens living out of the country or serving in the military overseas, the Federal Voting Assistance Program allows registration and requests for absentee ballots. 

Ultimately, however, voter registration and pre-registration rules vary by state.

Who can’t vote?

Not everyone is allowed to vote. Those who can’t include non-citizens, some people who have been convicted of a felony and some who are “mentally incapacitated.” Rules vary depending on the state.

Also, U.S. citizens who live in U.S. territories are not allowed to vote for president in the general election.

Find your polling place.

Once registered, the next step is to find out where and how you will vote. You can vote in person at your local polling place — which has specific hours of operation — or by mail.

Voters are expected to use their assigned polling places, which are usually near their homes. If you move, you should update your address on your voter registration to be assigned a new location. 

Voting outside your assigned location may result in you having to cast a provisional ballot and your vote may not be counted.

Also, be aware that changes to polling places — including different locations, layouts and procedures — may occur due to the coronavirus pandemic.

You can also mail in your vote using an absentee ballot. However, some states require a valid excuse to vote absentee. If your state does not automatically send out absentee ballots, voters can request them.

Is early voting an option?

Each state has its own rules and timelines regarding early voting. While some states started in September, others won’t get underway until mid-October, or even closer to Election Day.

Early votes can be cast either in person at polling places or by mail. Some states offer both options.

Know the rules in your state about voter ID.

Two-thirds of states expect you to provide identification to let you vote at the polls. Individual state laws determine whether voters need identification to cast a ballot.

About half of all states with voter ID laws accept only photo IDs, which could include a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, military ID card or passport. 

Other states may accept non-photo IDs, which could include birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements or utility bills. 

In general, voter ID requirements apply to in-person voting, not to mailed or absentee ballots.

First-time voters who didn’t register in person or who haven’t shown ID before must do so, according to federal law.

Check out what’s on the ballot.

You can find out where candidates stand on the issues by using voter guides. You can even print or email the information to use as a reference before and during voting.

Remember, in a general election, you can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation.

Vote.

Cast your ballot. And if you don’t know how, election officials can help or check online for more guidance.

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