Voting: an Autostraddle Guide (a.k.a. VAG)

Voting should be easy, but it doesn’t always feel that way — sometimes the political process can be overwhelming and you may even wonder if your vote counts at all. To add to all that, some rich white guys are trying to make it harder to vote so that only they can take part in elections. I call shennanigans on them and say let’s queer the polling places! In that spirit here’s your comprehensive guide to voting in the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election.

Vote because she tells you to! via nadinethornhill.wordpress.com

The Basics.

When is the presidential election?

It’s on Tuesday, November 6th 2012. Polling hours are different everywhere, but that’s the day. Because I grew up in a public-service oriented household where we celebrated our right to vote by partying like it was 1999 every single year, I’ve already requested off the entire day. And you know what? I’ll def be requesting off the next day too because I’m going to be hung over regardless of which candidate wins. If I don’t spend the night of the 6th drunk off of sheer gay joy, it’ll be shame and terror that does me in.

Am I eligible to vote?

To vote, you have to be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. Some states will let you register to vote when you’re 17 years of age if you’re going to turn 18 before the election actually happens. Each state also has its own residency requirement to register to vote.

How do I register to vote?

Answering this question on a Federal level is a little tricky, because each state actually controls its own voting laws. I’ve included a list of how to find out what your state’s requirements are a little later on, but there are some things that apply to every state. The National Mail Voter Registration Form allows you to register to vote by mail in every state except for New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wyoming. U.S. Territories do not accept this form, but I’ve included information on their election offices below so you can ask them how they’d like you to register. Filling out this form is easier than filling out your OKCupid profile.

You can also register to vote in person at the following locations:

  • State or local voter registration offices
  • State or local election offices
  • The DMV
  • Public assistance agencies
  • Armed services recruitment centers
  • Some state-funded programs that serve the handi-capable community
Some states also allow you to register online, which I think we all know is preferable because the world barely exists outside the internet.
Each state has its own registration deadline, which you can find on the National Mail Voter Form or by contacting your state election office. One thing is for certain: regardless of your state, you want to contact your election office at least 7 weeks prior to an election to make sure you are registered to vote and to ask what to do if you are not. 7 weeks means by September 25th, y’all. I’m personally challenging you to get it done before the end of August. If you’re going to A-Camp, have this done before A-Camp.
What should I bring with me to the polling place?
It’s really up to your state, but everyone should go equipped with a current, valid photo ID such as a state-issued driver’s license or a passport and a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document that shows your current address. Please be aware that many states have passed new ID laws this year in order to make it harder for you to vote!  Please research these laws in your state, which may require you to have a specific type of ID to vote that you don’t already have or that you didn’t need to bring with you before. If you are registering for the first time, you will need to show your ID and your utility bill/bank statement/pay check. If you are voting by mail, you may have to provide copies of the above documents when you mail your form in.
Where the f*ck do I vote?
Everyone is assigned a polling place based on the home address you list in your voter registration, so this is a super individual question. You must must must check with your state or local election office to figure this out, but your polling place should be fairly close to you because that’s how elections roll. Some states also have this sort of drop box that you drive by and pop your ballot into. It’s called a ballot drop site.

What if I can’t make it to the polling place on election day?

Some states allow early voting, all states allow absentee voting.  Keep reading to get on that train.

Look at all these queer votes we could cast! via neodemos.com

The Twists

What is voting absentee and how do I do it?

Absentee voting is this great thing where, if you can’t make it to your polling place on election day, you can just mail your ballot in and be done with it. The thing is, each state has its own rules for who can do this and what situations qualify for absentee voting. But every state does it. Some states have rules that restrict absentee voting to those who are ill or totally absent from the state on that day, others allow anyone to cast an absentee ballot. Every state also has a different deadline for absentee voting, quelle surprise. You can definitely, no matter what, vote absentee if you are a uniformed soldier and you are deployed, you are temporarily living overseas, or you are old or disabled and cannot easily make it to your polling place.

Can I vote early?

Voting early is done in person at a polling place or a ballot drop site. You cast your vote like normal, you just do it before election day. Hence the “early” part of early voting. Each state has rules and regulations for early voting and dates and times may even vary between counties and districts. Don’t worry, the big long list of state election offices is coming soon. You can unleash all these questions on them.

But all these rules are different state to state…how do I know what to do where I live?

Here it is! Here’s the list I promised you!  It’s long, but it’s alphabetical.  Find your state to get more specific instructions on how to vote!

For the Extremely Civically Minded

How do I volunteer at my local polling place?

Did you know this is a thing you can do? Poll workers set up voting equipment, verify registrations, and teach people about how to use the voting equipment. At the end of the day, poll workers close up shop, prepare elections materials to get shipped out to the voting office and submit their polling place results. Typically you have to be a registered voter to work at a polling place, but some states allow you to work when you’re in high school, and some states even pay you! Find out more at your state or local election office.

Where can I have an socio-political, slightly existential conversation about voting?

In the comments, natch.

Why should I vote?

I grew up in a fairly politically active household. My parents both had careers in civil service and they were both public sector employees for their entire work lives. My mother cried when I first pulled the lever to vote for the first time, and said that she felt she’d succeeded as a parent because she raised a Democrat. When I expressed a desire to get out of jury duty, my father wouldn’t speak to me because he thought I was shirking my duty as a citizen. It seems like a lot of effort, this whole voting thing. You have to fill out forms, make sure you have ID, go a place you may not normally go on a day you may be busy. But your country is home to your community, and we all need each other to keep making this place livable for queers and to push for our rights and our needs as human beings. By helping officials get elected we are ensuring that someone will be there to fight for us, to enact policy that moves us toward a more inclusive world. And people are trying to make it harder for you to vote this year! Why? Because your vote is powerful and dangerous; they are doing that on purpose. Will we let them? Hell no. Your vote matters. You should cast it.

via hipiseverything.wordpress.com

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A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

44 Comments

        • Rose is right. Get involved with campaigns. Young people do a lot a lot a lot for prospective politicians. Also, if you do that, see if your political science classes will give you credit! Mine did. And my brother managed to swing being awarded credit for acting as a polling place worker when we were in high school–in NJ, that means you get paid to work. And it’s an excused absence from school where we are as well. And he got credit for it. Pretty much the most productive day of his life to date.

      • Get involved with campaigns! You’ll probably influence more votes and ultimately have more of an impact than just voting and not campaigning will. Especially important if you live in or near a swing state! (e.g. I live in Maryland right now, which is a blue state, but during the 2008 election the Obama campaign here bussed volunteers to PA and VA, both swing states, to help get out the vote for Obama there. I got to spend election day canvassing and phone-banking in Philadelphia.)

        • I know you guys are right about getting involved being important, but it still sucks to not be able to vote! Luckily, I live in NC, which could really go either way this year. I’m president of my school’s Teen Democrats (the official membership roster consists of 3 people), so I do a lot with that. I went canvassing for the first time during the 2010 midterm elections, and I plan to do much of the same this year. There have also been talks of helping at voting sites. Plus, I’m known as the little queer who never shuts up about politics and carries a copy of the NC Constitution in her notebook, so I make sure my classmates of voting age are informed. :)

          • That’s awesome! But you’re right that it still sucks not to vote – I always was frustrated about that when I was a teen, especially when it seemed like I was more informed than a lot of the people who WERE old enough to vote. But it’ll come in time, just keep active!

  1. In 2008, my wife and I got up at 5:00 in the morning so we could be in line before the polls opened at 6:00. We spent those early morning hours waiting in line with our neighbors, chatting about nothing in particular. No one complained (that I heard) about the line or the waiting or how slow it moved when they finally opened the doors. Even though it was early and a lot of people probably had to get to work when they were done, everyone really wanted to be there because we all felt that casting our vote was important, and that our votes could make a difference. It was definitely my best (of only a few) voting experiences, and I hope this year is similar.

    • I totally didn’t know about this! I wish it took other things into account, though, besides the presidential election: both the state I reside in (and where I’m currently registered) and my school state are blue states, but I’m trying to decide whether to keep my vote in MD because of the anti-gay people put our new marriage equality law on the ballot, or vote in MA because of the Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown Senate election. (Currently leaning toward MD since I figure that living in MA for grad school, I can at least campaign for Warren.)

    • First off, thanks so much for the shoutout to Countmore.org. And, Ali, for including it in your subsequent article. I’m one of the heads of LongDistanceVoter.org, an online absentee resource (for non-expats), and Countmore.org is our project. That is super exciting for us.

      @Rose, we totally talked about a more complicated algorithm to account for close senate races and important propositions, etc., but ultimately we are but a handful of people with fulltime jobs who do this for the love and we just didn’t have the time or resources to put it together. Plus, our primary goal with Countmore.org is to make voting exciting (and ACTUAL!) for college students, wherever they do it.

      Both Rose and Anna: if you need absentee ballots, you should check out our Maryland absentee ballot guide (http://www.longdistancevoter.org/maryland). Ali’s list of state sites is awesome, but part of the reason Long Distance Voter came into being is that a number of states (*cough* *cough* Texas, Arizona, and most of the south *cough* *cough*) provide exactly NO information on their official sites.

      Thanks again, Nina and Ali! You guys are awesome.

  2. Just in case Rachel Maddow’s word isn’t good enough for you (and if so, what?????) here’s the PA Republican House Leader basically admitting that the new voter ID laws are there to help give the state to Romney this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o32tF-S6K60

    The very fact that they’re trying to take it away (and particularly from young voters, older voters and POC) shows that our ability to vote DOES matter. Don’t let them get away with it! Exercise your right!

  3. OK serious question guys. I’m only asking this because I’m
    confused and I need this answered to me like I’m an elementary
    school student. My question is how exactly do the new voter ID
    laws enfranchise the minorities? To my understanding it just
    means that you are required to obtain a government funded ID in
    order to vote. Is this exactly true or is there more? Can someone
    explain to me? I’m not asking this to start a war but I’m just
    confused…I guess that’s what I am.

    • I think one of the issues is the cost of having a government-issued ID. None of them are free, after all, and for some people $15 for a basic state-issued ID is not a small sum.

      Others might be able to add more.

    • Actually, the IDs themselves have to be free. However, the documentation you need to get the ID may not be free. For example, if you do not drive, and therefore have no drivers’ license (very common among urban and/or elderly people), you need an ID. To get your ID, you’ll need a copy of your birth certificate. If you do not have a copy of your birth certificate handy, or if you were born at home in the 1930s and never had one, or if your birth certificate and your current name don’t match because you got married and don’t have a copy of your marriage license, you may be totally out of luck. Or you’ll have to go get a copy, and that’s not free.

      Also, in a situation that is not discussed as frequently, let’s say you do have photo ID. But let’s say you move frequently, (very common among the very poor) and so your ID address and your voting address don’t match. Or let’s say the spelling of your name on your ID and the spelling of your name in the voter registration rolls don’t match. Then the poll teller could decide to not let you vote.

      Also, if you are a student going to college outside your home state, most of the states with the new ID laws don’t allow you to use your student ID. But your ID from your home state doesn’t show your school address.

      So there are a few of the problems.

    • Well they tend to disenfranchise a lot of different people. For students, some of the ones that are issues are:

      a) requiring you to vote in-person the first time if you register to vote by mail or online – again, a pain-in-the-ass if you’re an out-of-state student who needs to be able to vote absentee. This was the case in my home state, MI, when I registered and so if I hadn’t been able to register in-person I wouldn’t have been able to vote at all in the ’08 election.
      b) requiring you to have lived at the residence on your ID for a certain amount of time before you can vote – this was mentioned during the WI recall elections, as that kept a lot of students away from the polls since it happened shortly after various universities let out
      c) any other special hoops that are particularly annoying to jump through if you’re voting absentee and/or a new resident of the state, since those will target out-of-state college students particularly

      for poor people:
      a) Not having a driver’s license because you don’t own a car (obviously, you can get a photo ID, I don’t drive and I have one, but they might not have felt a need to get one before)
      b) Not being able to take time off/be able to afford transportation if the place you have to vote is far away
      c) The “in-person” rule if you register online/by mail can also be a problem if you aren’t able to take time off to vote on a workday (seriously, why aren’t we voting on weekends already)
      d) If you’re homeless and you don’t have an address, or if you’re constantly moving, how does getting an ID work…
      e) As said before, if you don’t drive, you have a slew of documents you have to keep hold of if you’re going to get an ID.

      for the elderly:
      a) A lot of older people who haven’t driven in several years would not have a current, unexpired driver’s license
      b) Again, transportation is an issue, especially if you live in a rural area where there isn’t a place nearby to get your ID

    • THe other issue is that even if you can get the ID for free, the documents to obtain the ID (copy of birth certificate, social security card, passport, etc) are not free- therefore it could be considered a “poll tax” which is illegal under the 24th amendment in the US Constitution.

  4. I just want to put a word in for being a poll teller. I am a poll teller in my town and I LOVE it. I’m the youngest person there by a solid 40 years (and I’m 31). I have a grand old time hanging out with the little old ladies, we check in voters, make sure everything’s counted and accounted for, and help first-time voters.

    Also, the polling place is an oddly apolitical space on the most political day of the year – no one is allowed to discuss candidates, or wear buttons, shirts, etc. for candidates within the confines of the polling place. No newspapers are allowed. It’s great.

  5. I love that Oregon does all voting by mail, no need to go to a polling place and you can vote several weeks before the election. I’ve never actually gone to a polling place to vote, before I moved to Oregon I got absentee ballots in Washington.

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