Voting 101

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Election Day's Coming — Here's How To Cast Your Vote
10.27.2004 3:34 PM EDT

You've studied the issues. Watched the debates. Read the articles. But now the talk is over and it's time to do this thing. Let's talk logistics.

1. Check Your Registration

Have you registered to vote? In most states, the deadlines for new registration have already passed, but there are some states still signing up voters (Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire and others), and even a few (Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming and Idaho) that allow Election Day registration (click here for a full list of deadlines). Check your state's status, but act quickly. You can't rock the vote until you rock the registration.

At school? Out of town? Love to travel? Request an absentee ballot from your local election officials. This ballot will allow you to vote by mail. Check the blue government pages of your phone book for county clerk, county auditor, county registrar or supervisor of elections, or just Google "absentee ballots" along with the name of your state (click here for more on absentee ballots). First-time voters beware: You must vote in person (no absentee ballots) in the following states: Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

  Download a checklist to make sure you have everything square before you head to the polls.


2. Check Out Your Ballot

There are a lot of things to vote for besides the president. Every ballot is different; there will be local officials, congressmen, and state and local ballot initiatives that you should check out before you roll to the polls. The best way to find out about all of the issues on your local ballot is to call your local board of elections or check out their Web site. To read more about ballot initiatives, click here.

3. Find Your Polling Place

You can't vote just anywhere. There is just one polling place in the whole world that has your name and is waiting for your vote. The location of your polling place is usually the one that is closest to the address you used when you registered. So before you wander around town aimlessly, or get turned away from the wrong polling place, call your state or local board of elections and they'll tell you where your polling place is. Confirm polling place hours of operation by calling your local election board or checking the Federal Election Commission's Web site.

4. Check Your ID

While not every state requires you to show ID, it's best to be on the safe side. Bring a government-issued photo ID (driver's license, military ID, passport, etc.) and a proof of address (a piece of official mail with your name and address on it.) If your ID matches the address you used to register to vote, that's all you need. If you used a different address to register, most states will require separate proof of residency, like a rent receipt or a utility bill.

5. Hit The Polls

At this point the only thing left to do is go to the polls. If you have registered but for some reason your name does not show up on the list of registered voters at your local polling place, you can request a provisional ballot from a poll worker. These are available in most states, but you have to be at the polling place nearest your house to use them. These ballots are confirmed and counted on Election Day or soon after, depending on state election laws. If you are having trouble getting a provisional ballot, call (866) OUR-VOTE for assistance.

After signing in at your polling place, an election worker will direct you to a voting booth. Most booths have a lever that closes a curtain behind the voter for privacy and unlocks the voting machine. Read all directions inside the voting booth before you begin. Voting apparatuses vary from state to state, with some using punch cards or fill-in-the-circle paper ballots and others using touch screens. And remember, just because you're registered under a certain party doesn't mean you have to vote for that party's candidate.

Why It Matters

Remember that every vote counts. In 1997, Vermont state Representative Sydney Nixon was proclaimed to have won by just one vote (570-569). Nixon later conceded after a recount determined that his opponent, Robert Emond, won 572-571. In 2000, George W. Bush bested Al Gore by only 537 votes in Florida. That's about how many people fit in your average college lecture hall.

And remember something else — you're not just one vote and one voice. You're part of 20 Million Loud.

For more on absentee ballots or for help locating your nearest polling place, check out JustVote.org, and once you think you're all set, make sure with our voter checklist.

State Boards of Election

Alabama 1-800-274-8683 Visit their website

Alaska 1-907-465-4611 Visit their website

Arizona 1-877-843-8683 Visit their website

Arkansas 1-800-482-1127 Visit their website

California English: 1-800-345-VOTE Spanish: 1-800-232-VOTA Chinese 1-800-339-2857 Vietnamese 1-800-339-8163 Japanese 1-800-339-2865 Tagalog 1-800-339-2957 Korean 1-800-575-1558 Visit their website

Colorado 1-303-894-2200 ext. 6307 Visit their website

Connecticut 1-800-540-3764 TDD:860-509-6191 1-800-303-3161 Visit their website

Delaware 1-800-273-9500 Visit their website

District of Columbia 1-202-727-2525 Visit their website

Florida 1-866-308-6739 Voter Fraud Hotline: 877-868-3737 Visit their website Georgia 1-404-656-2871 Visit their website

Hawaii 1- 800-442-VOTE(8683) Visit their website

Idaho 1-208-334-2300 Visit their website

Illinois 217-782-4141 TDD: 217-782-1518 Visit their website

Indiana 1- 800-622-4941 Visit their website

Iowa 1-515-281-0145 Visit their website

Kansas 1- 800-262-VOTE (8683) Visit their website

Kentucky 1- 502-573-7100 TTY/TTD: 502-573-7100 Visit their website

Louisiana 1-225-922-0900 Visit their website

Maine 1-207-624-7650 Visit their website

Maryland 1-800-222-8683 Visit their website

Massachusetts 1-800-462-VOTE Visit their website

Michigan Visit their website

Minnesota 651-296-2803 Visit their website

Mississippi 1- 800-829-6786 Visit their website

Missouri 1- 573-751-2301 Visit their website

Montana 1-888-884-VOTE (8683) Visit their website

Nebraska 1-402-471-2555 Visit their website

Nevada 1- 775-684-5705 Visit their website

New Hampshire 1- 603-271-3242 Visit their website

New Jersey 1-609-292-3760 TTD/TYY: 1-800-292-0039 Visit their website

New Mexico 1-505-827-3600 Visit their website

New York 1- 800-367-8683 Visit their website

North Carolina Visit their website

North Dakota 1-701-328-4146 Visit their website

Ohio 1-877-SOS-FILE Visit their website

Oklahoma 1-405-521-2391 Visit their website

Oregon 1-866-ORE-VOTES Visit their website

Pennsylvania 1-717-787-5280 Visit their website

Rhode Island 1-401-222-2345 TDD: 401-222-3135 Visit their website

South Carolina 1-803-734-9060 Visit their website

South Dakota 1-605-773-3537 Visit their website

Tennessee 1-615-741-7956 Visit their website

Texas 1-800-252-VOTE (8683) Visit their website

Utah 1-800-995-VOTE Visit their website

Vermont 1-802-828-2464 Visit their website

Virginia 1-(804)786-6551

Washington 1-800-448-4881 TDD/TTY: 800-422-8683 Visit their website

West Virginia 1-304-558-6000 Visit their website

Wisconsin 1-608-266-8005 Visit their website

Wyoming 1-307-777-7186 Visit their website

—E. Warren Scott

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