Voting is a right – and according to many, a duty for Americans. But voting has steps and rules to be followed, which can change from state to state.
Voting rights are established by the Constitution and cannot be denied on the grounds of race or color, sex, or age for any American citizen 18 or older. Past that, state laws decide who can vote in their state, county, and city. Many states have taken away voting rights from convicted felons, permanently in many cases.
Most Americans will also need to register to vote. Every state but North Dakota requires registration before letting a person vote. Some states let voters register on Election Day, while others have earlier deadlines.
For people who plan to vote in person, many states ask for identification, like a driver’s license, state ID, or passport. Other states may not require photo ID at all, accepting any voters with valid registration. While the rules vary by state, the rule of thumb for most voters in general elections is to make sure they’re registered a month before Election Day and have some form of photo identification if they’re unsure of their state’s voter laws.
Not everyone can make it to the polls on Election Day – do they still get to vote? If they register in advance, some Americans can vote by mail.
Absentee ballots for voting by mail are usually used only by voters unable or unwilling to vote in person on Election Day. Soldiers, foreign residents, students, old people, and vacationers were typically eligible to receive absentee ballots. These ballots are mailed to eligible voters, who then fill them out and send them back to the county’s election office. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many states to ease up on restrictions for mail-in voting. Throughout the country, states have been sending mail-in ballots to all eligible voters as part of a system called universal mail-in voting. Some voters believe all who apply should be allowed to mail in their ballots, but critics argue that mail-in voting is more prone to fraud or the loss of eligible votes.
Ultimately, voting has a set of rules that need to be followed. Although a right granted to Americans through the Constitution, votes are only counted when the voter follows these guidelines.