FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

All your questions regarding how, when, where, and what about the voting process answered here.

All your questions regarding how, when, where, and what about the voting process answered here.

HOW?

Many states (e.g., New York, Alabama, Illinois, etc.) allow for online registration, though you can also mail in your registration form or submit it in person. Other states (e.g., Arkansas, Maine, South Dakota, etc.) only allow you to print and mail your voter registration form or submit it in person. Some states (e.g., North Dakota) automatically register all their residents. And still others (e.g., New Hampshire) only accept in-person registrations. Some states accept Election Day registrations, while others do not.

You can check what your state allows here.

  • Does my one vote really matter?

    An NPR article details how a few votes — or even one — can make a difference:

    “2018: The Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive in July was decided by just 17 votes.

    2017: A Virginia House of Delegates race ended in a tie out of more than 23,000 votes cast. The tie was broken by pulling a name, placed in a film canister, out of a bowl. Republican David Yancey was declared the winner. The result was heightened by the fact that the win gave Republicans control of the state House by a single seat.

    2016: A Vermont state Senate Democratic primary was determined by a single vote out of more than 7,400 cast.

    2016: A Vermont state House seat was determined by one vote out of 2,000. Here’s what’s really crazy: This was a rematch, and when they first faced each other in 2010, the race was also decided by one vote — in the other direction.

    2016: A New Mexico state House seat was decided by two votes out of almost 14,000.”

  •  My state has historically been [Red/Blue]: Do I really need to vote?

    “The growing nationalization of American politics — in which races for state office are affected by national politics — means competition comes to red and blue places depending on the current popularity of the national parties. It came to Alabama and Massachusetts, and it will come to you, too.

    If national politics feels so hopeless or threatening that you can’t see the value in organizing your own precinct, remember that the next election and the ones that follow will be important, too.” (Hersh, 2018; c.f. Fraga and Hersh, 2018).

     

  •  I live in a “swing state” [Purple]: Do I really need to vote?

    “Let me remind you about how I use the term ‘swing state’ here at FiveThirtyEight. When I employ the term, I mean a state that could swing the outcome of the election. That is, if the state changed hands, the victor in the Electoral College would change as well.

    The most rigorous way to define this is to sort the states in order of the most Democratic to the least Democratic, or most Republican to least Republican. Then count up the number of votes the candidate accumulates as he wins successively more difficult states. The state that provides him with the 270th electoral vote, clinching an Electoral College majority, is the swingiest state — the specific term I use for it is the ‘tipping point state.’” (Silver, 2012)

    “So where does that leave us in 2020″ Well, as of June 16, The Cook Political Report lists six states as toss-ups: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And since Democrats have the advantage in states worth only 232 electoral votes and Republicans have the advantage in states worth only 204, Cook is therefore also expecting these six states to be bellwethers.” (Rakich, 2020)

  • Do I need to vote?

    While there’s no requirement to vote — the choice to do so is entirely yours — consider the following:

    “Voting is also a crucial way to let politicians who are in office know how you feel about their performance and policies. If the majority of people in a district vote for a candidate who has promoted a certain issue, then that’s a sign to other politicians that people care a lot about that subject — and if they want to be in office, they should, too.” (Morrison, 201

  • What does the in-person process look like?

    See FiveThirtyEight’s voting guide for specific details on how your state approaches the in-person voting process.

  • What does the ballot actually look like?

    How your ballot looks will largely depend on where you live. The contents of a ballot can vary at the state and local levels in order to accommodate differences in proposed ballot measures, state/local legislatures, and congressional races.

    Trusted resources like Vote411 and HeadCount allow voters to electronically access sample ballots and voter guides based on their specific voting location. Once your sample ballot has been generated, “you can print or email the information to use as a reference when you actually vote.” (Vote411, 2020). 

  • Am I allowed to ask for help when I’m on-site?

    Yes.
    “Election officials must provide you with help if it’s possible for them to do so.” (ACLU, 2020)

    “Under federal law, voters with disabilities and voters who have difficulty reading or writing English have the right to receive in-person help at the polls from the person of their choice. This helper cannot be the voter’s employer, an agent of the voter’s employer, or an agent or officer of the voter’s union. The helper must respect the voter’s privacy, not looking at the voter’s ballot unless the voter asks them to do so.” (ACLU, 2020)

    “If you have difficulty using the materials provided to make your ballot selections, review, or cast your ballot, let a poll worker know and ask for the help you need. Accessibility is the law.” (ACLU, 2020).

    See the ACLU’s guide to voting rights for further information. 
  • I’m living abroad: How do I vote?

    “If you’re an overseas voter, it’s good practice to fill out a Federal Post Card Application at the start of each calendar year to ensure you’re on the rolls for all primary, general and special elections in your state. (Overseas Americans generally vote in the state where they last lived, even if they no longer have any ties to that location.)” (Zamora, 2020)

    “When you fill out your ballot request, be sure to choose email as the delivery option so you’ll get your ballot as quickly as possible. If you’ve already sent in your request but didn’t ask to receive your ballot by email, you can submit a new one. Every state is required by federal law to make ballots available to overseas voters electronically upon request.” (Zamora, 2020)

    “It is crucial that voters from mail-only states send in their completed ballots well before Election Day on Nov. 3. If you’re worried about using international airmail, one option is to ask your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to send your ballot by diplomatic pouch. But not every embassy is offering this service, delivery could take six weeks or more, and your ballot would still need to wind its way through the U.S. postal system to your local election office. You can also use an express delivery service like FedEx or DHL, but the longer you wait, the more it will cost you.” (Zamora, 2020)

    Find more detailed guidelines for voting from abroad here and here

  • Am I eligible for an absentee ballot?

    Eligibility for absentee voting depends largely on the rules and regulations set by your state government. While many states have temporarily expanded access to absentee voting in light of COVID-19, guidelines still vary on a state-by-state basis. Find your state’s absentee ballot rules here

  • Does my state allow for “mail-in” voting?

    Given the additional strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the electoral process, many states have expanded their vote-by-mail programs for the 2020 election. Even still, all 50 states allow for mail-in voting in some capacity. The Wall Street Journal has compiled a comprehensive guide for How to Vote by Mail in Every State that details each state’s individual approach to mail-in voting. 

  • Am I eligible for mail-in?

    “The coronavirus pandemic is set to change the way millions of Americans can vote in November, as states expand access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting.

    As of now, over 198 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already allowed anyone to vote absentee. But many of these places are making the process easier.” (Rabinowitz & Mayes, 2020)

    See The Wall Street Journal’s updated state-by-state guide to mail-in voting to find out how you can vote by mail.

    • What are some ways I can stay on top of my ballot status?

      “According to an analysis by the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonpartisan group that advocates for states to make it easier for voters to cast ballots safely from home, 46 states and the District of Columbia now have online portals that allow voters to track the status of their ballots every step of the way.

      ‘Ballot tracking is very much similar to tracking a package that you order online, but for mail ballots,’ Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the Institute, told reporters . . . ‘It utilizes different data entry points into the process to let a voter know what the status of their mail ballot is from the time it’s been printed and mailed, all the way through to when it’s been received by the election official at the end of the process.’” (Panetta, 2020)

      Check how you can track your ballot status here.

    • When do I need to send in my mail-in ballot by?

      The earlier, the better. Each state takes a different approach to counting mail-in ballots. Some election offices only require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, while others need to have physically received ballots by Election Day in order for those votes to be considered legitimate.

      See Vote.org’s guide to absentee ballot deadlines to find out when your ballot is due.

    • What are some errors I might accidentally commit that could invalidate my ballot?

      A recent Business Insider article outlines 5 common mistakes that can disqualify your mail ballot:

      “1) Improperly filling out your ballot”
      “2) Forgetting to sign your envelope”
      “3) Using a different signature from what your state has on file”
      “4) Not including required additional documentation”
      “5) Sending your ballot back too late”

      Find out how to avoid these errors here

HOW?

Many states (e.g., New York, Alabama, Illinois, etc.) allow for online registration, though you can also mail in your registration form or submit it in person. Other states (e.g., Arkansas, Maine, South Dakota, etc.) only allow you to print and mail your voter registration form or submit it in person. Some states (e.g., North Dakota) automatically register all their residents. And still others (e.g., New Hampshire) only accept in-person registrations. Some states accept Election Day registrations, while others do not.

You can check what your state allows here.

  • … by mail/absentee?


    Absentee ballot eligibility: Eligibility for absentee voting depends largely on the rules and regulations set by your state government. While many states have temporarily expanded access to absentee voting in light of COVID-19, guidelines still vary on a state-by-state basis. Find your state’s absentee ballot rules here.

    Mail-in eligibility: “The coronavirus pandemic is set to change the way millions of Americans can vote in November, as states expand access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting.

    As of now, over 198 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already allowed anyone to vote absentee. But many of these places are making the process easier.” (Rabinowitz & Mayes, 2020)

    See The Wall Street Journal’s updated state-by-state guide to mail-in voting to find out how you can vote by mail.

    Mail-in voting by state: Given the additional strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the electoral process, many states have expanded their vote-by-mail programs for the 2020 election. Even still, all 50 states allow for mail-in voting in some capacity. The Wall Street Journal has compiled a comprehensive guide for How to Vote by Mail in Every State that details each state’s individual approach to mail-in voting.

  • … if I’m overseas?

    “If you’re an overseas voter, it’s good practice to fill out a Federal Post Card Application at the start of each calendar year to ensure you’re on the rolls for all primary, general and special elections in your state. (Overseas Americans generally vote in the state where they last lived, even if they no longer have any ties to that location.)” (Zamora, 2020)

    “When you fill out your ballot request, be sure to choose email as the delivery option so you’ll get your ballot as quickly as possible. If you’ve already sent in your request but didn’t ask to receive your ballot by email, you can submit a new one. Every state is required by federal law to make ballots available to overseas voters electronically upon request.” (Zamora, 2020)

    “It is crucial that voters from mail-only states send in their completed ballots well before Election Day on Nov. 3. If you’re worried about using international airmail, one option is to ask your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to send your ballot by diplomatic pouch. But not every embassy is offering this service, delivery could take six weeks or more, and your ballot would still need to wind its way through the U.S. postal system to your local election office. You can also use an express delivery service like FedEx or DHL, but the longer you wait, the more it will cost you.” (Zamora, 2020)

    Find more detailed guidelines for voting from abroad here and here

     

“According to an analysis by the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonpartisan group that advocates for states to make it easier for voters to cast ballots safely from home, 46 states and the District of Columbia now have online portals that allow voters to track the status of their ballots every step of the way. 

‘Ballot tracking is very much similar to tracking a package that you order online, but for mail ballots,’ Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the Institute, told reporters . . . ‘It utilizes different data entry points into the process to let a voter know what the status of their mail ballot is from the time it’s been printed and mailed, all the way through to when it’s been received by the election official at the end of the process.’” (Panetta, 2020

Check how you can track your ballot status here. 

The earlier, the better. Each state takes a different approach to counting mail-in ballots. Some election offices only require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, while others need to have physically received ballots by Election Day in order for those votes to be considered legitimate. 

See Vote.org’s guide to absentee ballot deadlines to find out when your ballot is due. 

Be aware of the errors that you could accidentally commit that could invalidate your ballot.

A recent Business Insider article outlines 5 common mistakes that can disqualify your mail ballot: 

  • “1) Improperly filling out your ballot”
  • “2) Forgetting to sign your envelope”
  • “3) Using a different signature from what your state has on file”
  • “4) Not including required additional documentation”
  • “5) Sending your ballot back too late”

Find out how to avoid these errors here.

Resources like Ballotpedia are providing updated coverage on “changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Find a list of the most recent developments here

 

“Election workers are essential to ensuring that elections are a success. With each election, millions of Americans dedicate themselves to sustaining the backbone of democracy – our election process.” (EAC)

Find the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s guide to becoming a poll worker here

“Qualifications vary by jurisdictions. Many states require poll workers to be registered to vote in the state or their local jurisdiction. In some cases, younger people who aren’t yet eligible to vote can also serve as poll workers. You can check the requirements for your jurisdiction here.” (Power the Polls)

WHEN?

Voter registration deadlines — as well as available registration methods (e.g., in person, online, by mail) — vary on a state-by-state basis. You can find the specific deadlines and registration rules for your state here.

    • I didn’t vote in the primary: Can I still vote in the general election?

      Yes. Forgoing participation in the primaries does not disqualify you from voting in the general election. 
    • I missed the deadline: Can I still register to vote?

      Certain states allow for same-day voter registration, which gives voters the opportunity to register at their local election office on Election Day (find an updated list of those states here). However, “in most other states, voters must register by a given deadline prior to Election Day. The deadline varies by state, with most falling between eight and 30 days before the election.” (NCSL, 2020)

See Vote.org’s list of voter registration deadlines to find out the latest date your state will allow you to register. 



Although the entire country will vote on the same day (November 3), each state has a different electoral timeline leading up to Election Day. Individual states have the ability to set their own deadlines for voter registration, absentee/mail-in ballot requests, etc. We recommend referring to Vote411 for resources on your state’s electoral timeline. 

Election Day will take place on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Here are some aspects of the voting process you should take into consideration when making your voting plan:

    • I hear the lines are really long on Election Day, but I have to go to work and can’t vote early: What can I do?

      Given the additional strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the electoral process, many states have expanded their vote-by-mail programs for the 2020 election. Even still, all 50 states allow for mail-in voting in some capacity. The Wall Street Journal has compiled a comprehensive guide for How to Vote by Mail in Every State that details each state’s mail-based alternatives to in person or early voting. 
    • What do I need to bring with me come Election Day?

      “A total of 36 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, 35 of which are in force in 2020. (North Carolina’s law has a temporary injunction on it, as of Dec. 31, 2019.) . . . The remaining 14 states use other methods to verify the identity of voters. Most frequently, other identifying information provided at the polling place, such as a signature, is checked against information on file.” (NCSL, 2020)

You can find the specific voter identification requirements for your state here.

WHERE?

Many states offer online services that can help you look up your local voting site. Others list contact information for local election officials, who are trained to help you find your polling place (NASS 2020).

Find your polling place online or by phone
here.

Stay updated on changes to your polling place locations:

Changes to polling places are possible due to the coronavirus. These may include different locations, layouts, procedures, and availability of translators (USA.gov). To ensure you are aware of new changes to your polling place, regularly check your state resources here.

 

Where do I vote if I…?

  • Am a student?–Can I vote from the state where my school is located instead of my home state?

    You have dual residency, so you can register back home or on campus as long as you don’t register to vote in both states (Vote.org). To register to vote, click here. If you are living at home due to the pandemic but register to vote in the state where your school is located, we recommend requesting an absentee ballot as soon as possible here.

    Please note that due to the conditions imposed by the pandemic, your permanent home address “is less likely to be challenged than one at a campus that has closed because of covid-19. Can an empty room in a shuttered dorm count as one’s permanent address? Each state has its own rules, and given the current political climate, “Every ballot that can be challenged will be challenged,” said Tom de Boor, who is organizing an effort to help universities get out the vote.” (Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2020)

  • Am a recent graduate who just moved away from college: Where am I registered now?

    If you move within your state, you’ll need to update or change your voter registration. If you move permanently to another state, register to vote in that new state. Make sure to submit your changes before your state’s registration deadline. That could be up to 30 days before the election (USA.gov).

  • Moved to another state: Does my place of residence automatically update or do I need to re-register?

    You must update your address with your local election official whenever you change residences. If you moved to a different state, you should cancel your voter registration in your old state and re-register in your new one. While it’s not illegal to be registered to vote in multiple states at once, updating your address and re-registering will help election officials maintain up-to-date voter rolls (Business Insider). Visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commision’s Register and Vote in Your State page for more information about registering to vote, and links to your state’s election office website (US EAC).

More Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS...?

“The term “absentee ballot” has been historically used to describe a ballot that is sent to a voter outside of a polling place. When the use of such ballots began, the idea was that only voters who were “absent” from their local voting jurisdiction on Election Day would be able to request and cast their ballot through the mail […] As the use of absentee voting evolved, election officials began referring to the practice with other terms, such as “advanced ballots,” “mailed ballots,” “vote-by-mail ballots” and “mail ballots,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).” (Ye Hee Lee, 2020)

This is different from universal mail voting “a practice in which election officials proactively send voters mail ballots. Currently, five states hold their elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. This means all eligible voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail, regardless of whether they request it. They can choose to mail it back or drop it off at a designated location, depending on the rules of each election and state.” (Ye Hee Lee, 2020)



“Most states have early voting. This lets registered voters vote on specified dates before Election Day. You don’t need an excuse to vote early. In some states, you may cast an absentee ballot in person before Election Day. To do this, you must request an absentee ballot from your state. Your state may require you to submit a valid excuse too.” (usa.gov, 2020)



Also referred to as a protest vote, this refers to “a targeted signal of disaffection to one’s most-preferred political party.” (Kselman and Niou, 2010)

“The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The Founding Fathers established it in the Constitution, in part, as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.” (National Archives, 2020)

“Electoral votes are allocated among the States based on the Census. Every State is allocated a number of votes equal to the number of senators and representatives in its U.S. Congressional delegation—two votes for its senators in the U.S. Senate plus a number of votes equal to the number of its Congressional districts.” (National Archives, 2020)

“Each state has a number of electors in the electoral college proportionate to its population: the sum of its number of senators (always two) and representatives in the House.

Technically, Americans on election day cast votes for electors, not the candidates themselves, although in most cases the electors’ names are not on the ballot.

California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes. A few small states and the District of Columbia have only three.

Today, the electoral college has 538 electors, and in all but two states, Maine and Nebraska, all of the state’s electors are awarded to the winner of the popular vote within that state.

A candidate needs to win 270 electoral votes – half of the total plus one – to win the White House.

Part of a presidential candidate’s grand strategy entails drawing a map of states the candidate can and must win to gather 270 electoral votes.” (BBC, 2016)

“In a winner-take-all system, any votes over the 50 percent margin are considered “wasted votes.” This means that voters in states with a heavy partisan lean have a lower chance of actually impacting the election. Public awareness of this fact also potentially lowers voter turnout.” (Cohen, 2019)

“The National Popular Vote (NPV) refers to the concept of allocating a state’s presidential electors to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide regardless of the state results in a presidential election. For example, if a state used NPV and voted for candidate A, but candidate B received the most votes nationwide, the state would allocate its presidential electors to candidate B. Under Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, states have control over how they allocate their presidential electors.” (Ballotpedia, 2020)

“In a primary election, registered voters may participate in choosing the candidate for the party’s nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.”

There are two main types of primaries, closed or open, that determine who is eligible to vote in the primary. In a closed primary a registered voter may vote only in the election for the party with which that voter is affiliated. For example a voter registered as Democratic can vote only in the Democratic primary and a Republican can vote only in the Republican primary. In an open primary, on the other hand, a registered voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership. The voter cannot, however, participate in more than one primary. A third less common type of primary, the blanket primary, allows registered voters to participate in all primaries.

Some clarifications about the electoral process:

Overall: Yes.

However:

“Each state’s process differs. But generally, election officials check the voter registration and other information to confirm that mail ballots are sent only to voters who are eligible to cast that ballot. In about half the states, election officials can match a specific ballot to a specific voter using technology, using tracking bar codes or tally marks that are unique to each voter.

A ballot is counted only after election officials have conducted a thorough check to make sure that it was filled out by the voter to whom the ballot was sent. About 15 states require signatures on the ballots to be matched against the signatures on their voter registration. Ballots are rejected if they are not sent back in the envelope that the state provided the voter. (Check out our explainer on how to prevent your mail ballot from being rejected.)” (Ye Hee Lee, 2020)

How your ballot looks will largely depend on where you live. The contents of a ballot can vary at the state and local levels in order to accommodate differences in proposed ballot measures, state/local legislatures, and congressional races.

Trusted resources like Vote411 and HeadCount allow voters to electronically access sample ballots and voter guides based on their specific voting location. Once your sample ballot has been generated, “you can print or email the information to use as a reference when you actually vote.” (Vote411, 2020). 

“Mail-in” often seems to favor Democrats: Why is that?

 

Academics have documented in elections dating back to 1948 the so-called “blue shift” in which late-arriving absentee ballots and provisional ballots tend to favor Democrats. But Covid-19 may alter these historical patterns since different demographic groups may be voting by mail.” (Shapiro, 2020)



“‘It prevents large states like California from running roughshod over the interests of smaller states like Iowa or Wyoming,’ said Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College in Mount Vernon. ‘It makes presidential candidates more likely to campaign in Iowa. If that wasn’t the case, they would spent all their time in New York City and in California and in Texas.’” (Miller, 2016)

“The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Compact ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election. The Compact is a state-based approach that preserves the Electoral College, state control of elections, and the power of the states to control how the President is elected.

 

The National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by 16 jurisdictions possessing 196 electoral votes, including 4 small states (DE, HI, RI, VT), 8 medium-sized states (CO, CT, MD, MA, NJ, NM, OR, WA), 3 big states (CA, IL, NY), and the District of Columbia. The bill will take effect when enacted by states with 74 more electoral votes.  The bill has passed at least one chamber in 9 additional states with 88 more electoral votes (AR, AZ, ME, MI, MN, NC, NV, OK, VA).  A total of 3,408 state legislators from all 50 states have endorsed it.

 

The shortcomings of the current system of electing the President stem from “winner-take-all” laws that have been enacted by state legislatures in 48 states. These laws award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each state.” (NPVIC, 2020)



“Prior to a general election, there is a selection process to determine which candidate will appear on the ballot for a given political party in the nationwide general election. Political parties generally hold national conventions at which a group of delegates collectively decide upon which candidate they will run for the presidency. The process of choosing delegates to the national convention is undertaken at the state level, which means that there are significant differences from state to state and sometimes year to year. The two methods for choosing delegates to the national convention are the caucus and the primary.” (VoteSmart, 2020)

“Caucuses were the original method for selecting candidates but have decreased in number since the primary was introduced in the early 1900’s. In states that hold caucuses a political party announces the date, time, and location of the meeting. Generally any voter registered with the party may attend. At the caucus, delegates are chosen to represent the state’s interests at the national party convention. Prospective delegates are identified as favorable to a specific candidate or uncommitted. After discussion and debate an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates should be chosen.” (VoteSmart, 2020)

“‘It happened after the 1968 Democratic National Convention,’ [Kathy O’Bradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register] said, which was marred by violence over the Vietnam War and racial tension. ‘The Democratic Party nationally and in Iowa decided they wanted to change their process to make it more inclusive.’

Part of that meant spreading the presidential nominating schedule out in each state. Because Iowa has one of the more complex processes — precinct caucuses, county conventions, district conventions, followed by a state convention — it had to start really early. (The Democratic Party held Iowa caucuses first in the nation in 1972; the GOP followed suit in 1976.)

And once a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter rode an Iowa caucus win all the way to the White House, Iowa suddenly became a thing.” (Sanders, 2016)

“Depending on your state’s rules, you may have to vote for the political party you’ve registered with.” (usa.gov, 2020)

“Your political party affiliation is the party that you choose to associate with. Depending on your state, you may be asked your party affiliation when you register to vote.

You can change your party affiliation online, by mail, or over the phone using the methods for changing your voter registration information. 

“Independents often are portrayed as political free agents with the potential to alleviate the nation’s rigid partisan divisions. Yet the reality is that most independents are not all that ‘independent’ politically. And the small share of Americans who are truly independent — less than 10% of the public has no partisan leaning – stand out for their low level of interest in politics.” (Pew, 2019)

“Voters who registered to vote without stating a political party preference are known as No Party Preference (NPP) voters.  NPP voters were formerly known as “decline-to-state” or “DTS” voters.” (sos.ca.gov, 2020)

“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. Generally, candidates for a general election are chosen via a primary election, but this is not always the case. For example, in Louisiana, all candidates for congressional and state-level office, regardless of party affiliation, participate in the state’s general election (if no candidate wins an outright majority of votes in the general election, a runoff is held between the top two vote-getters). General elections occur at local, state, and federal levels, and typically occur at regular intervals. In some cases, elections may occur at irregular times, such as to elect a replacement for a seat vacated due to death, resignation, or removal from office.” (Ballotpedia, 2020)

“The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the principal governing organization of the Democratic Party of the United States.

The DNC is responsible for overseeing the process of writing and promoting the party platform every four years and providing national leadership surrounding campaign, fundraising, political activity, and election strategy.” (Ballotpedia, 2020)

“The Republican National Committee (RNC) provides national leadership for the Republican Party, one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States.

The RNC is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican Party platform as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. It is also responsible for organizing and running the Republican National Convention every four years.” (Ballotpedia, 2020)

No: “The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties of the United States. It is often referred to as the Grand Old Party or the GOP.” (Ballotpedia, 2020)

“With at least half the votes in the November election expected to be cast by mail, Americans must prepare to wait for results well past Election Day. In recent years, a growing number of states have allowed all voters to vote by mail, and others have expanded such programs to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. It may take days, if not weeks, to count an expected record number of mail-in votes — something many states have little experience with. Election officials, political candidates, members of the media, and the general public must wait for every vote to be counted to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the election. Instead of expecting results on Election Day, it may be best to prepare for an election week or even an election month.” (Brennan Center for Justice, 2020)

“Experts are predicting that mail ballots could make up at least half of all votes cast election due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Multiple states have expanded access to mail-in voting to address fears about in-person voting during a pandemic. At least three-quarters of Americans will be eligible for a mail ballot this year — the most in history. About 80 million votes are expected to be cast by mail, which is double the number in 2016.” (Brennan Center for Justice, 2020)

“Voters must be prepared to wait for results well past Election Day and understand that a delay simply means that ballots are still being counted — which is critical for fairness and accuracy. President Trump has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting and has been trying to delegitimize the election, and it is critical to protect the credibility of our democratic process by ensuring each vote is counted.” (Brennan Center for Justice, 2020)

“Even in a normal year, the results announced on election night are considered unofficial by election authorities. States generally conduct a certification process to verify the final tally, which can take weeks. That is potentially more significant in a close race.

If results are delayed, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory that the presidential winner isn’t clear on election night. In 2000, a recount dispute in Florida took more than a month to resolve.” (Corse, 2020)

An NPR article details how a few votes — or even one — can make a difference:

“2018: The Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive in July was decided by just 17 votes.

2017: A Virginia House of Delegates race ended in a tie out of more than 23,000 votes cast. The tie was broken by pulling a name, placed in a film canister, out of a bowl. Republican David Yancey was declared the winner. The result was heightened by the fact that the win gave Republicans control of the state House by a single seat.

2016: A Vermont state Senate Democratic primary was determined by a single vote out of more than 7,400 cast.

2016: A Vermont state House seat was determined by one vote out of 2,000. Here’s what;s really crazy: This was a rematch, and when they first faced each other in 2010, the race was also decided by one vote — in the other direction.

2016: A New Mexico state House seat was decided by two votes out of almost 14,000.”

“The growing nationalization of American politics — in which races for state office are affected by national politics — means competition comes to red and blue places depending on the current popularity of the national parties. It came to Alabama and Massachusetts, and it will come to you, too.

If national politics feels so hopeless or threatening that you can’t see the value in organizing your own precinct, remember that the next election and the ones that follow will be important, too.” (Hersh, 2018; c.f. Fraga and Hersh, 2018)

Yes. “Election officials must provide you with help if it’s possible for them to do so.” (ACLU, 2020)

“Under federal law, voters with disabilities and voters who have difficulty reading or writing English have the right to receive in-person help at the polls from the person of their choice. This helper cannot be the voter’s employer, an agent of the voter’s employer, or an agent or officer of the voter’s union. The helper must respect the voter’s privacy, not looking at the voter’s ballot unless the voter asks them to do so.” (ACLU, 2020)

“If you have difficulty using the materials provided to make your ballot selections, review, or cast your ballot, let a poll worker know and ask for the help you need. Accessibility is the law.” (ACLU, 2020)

See the ACLU’s guide to voting rights for further information. 

For media and other inquiries

Contact Tiffany Shackelford at tshackel@usc.edu