Politics 101: What You Need To Know About Voting

With one of the most heated election cycles in history going on right now, the hype to vote in November is completely unreal, especially among young new voters.

But for many of us, this is the very first election we’re allowed to vote in. And while the pure thought of voting for the first time is exhilarating, it’s also pretty horrifying when you have no idea what you’re doing.

Luckily, Valley has the inside scoop on what you’ll need to do to make sure your vote counts this November! The 2016 General Election is being held on Tuesday, November 8 – meaning we’re about 35 days to the election. So let’s start with the basics…

Registering to Vote

Okay, so, it sounds pretty self explanatory, but in order to vote in any election (primary, general, or special), you have to register.  And when you register, you’ll have to pick a party to belong to. Party choices vary by state, but the most commonly chosen are Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Libertarian.

Registration deadlines also vary by state, but in Pennsylvania, the last day to register to vote for this election is October 11 – about a week from now. To register in Pennsylvania, you can vote online, or by mail.

Other states are similar, but since we can’t list all 50, all you have to do is Google search “how to register to vote in *insert state here*” and you’ll be set! If you’re not sure if you’re registered in your state, you can use the “voter lookup” online in your state to make sure.

Absentee Voting

If you’re not going to be in your hometown on election day, you’ll have to apply for something called an “Absentee Ballot.” Essentially, an absentee ballot is cast when you can’t physically make it to your designated voting location on Election Day. You’ll need this if you’re an out of state student who isn’t planning on returning home for the election!

Applications for absentee ballots vary by state, but usually consist of filling out a form, mailing it in to your local County Board of Elections, and then receiving a letter back containing a ballot, on which you can cast your vote by mail!

Here are a few absentee ballot forms for surrounding states, that we thought might be helpful: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland. Again, to find an absentee ballot for your state, simply Google search “absentee ballot for *insert state here*”!

Voting in Person

Now, the scariest part – voting in person. When you vote in person, a few things happen. First, you’ll have to check and make sure you know the polling location you’re designated to go to. For Penn State, State College, and surrounding areas, take a look at this map to see where you can vote. Most students living on campus can vote at The Hub.

Here’s what (generally) happens when you arrive at your polling location. If you’re a first time voter, and you registered to vote online or by mail,  you will have to show a form of ID, regardless of what state you vote in. If you’re not a first time voter, you may or may not have to produce a form of identification acceptable to your state. About two-thirds of states require an ID to vote, and Pennsylvania is not one of them (unless you’re voting in your area for the first time).

Basically, depending on what method of voting your state/county utilizes, you’ll likely see either an Optical Scan, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), or a paper ballot. Paper ballots are rarely still used, though.

With an Optical Scan, you’ll fill out a ballot that resembles a Scantron, and you’ll feed it into a computer device that checks your card to make sure you have voted the way you want to, and counts the votes. With DRE, the newest method of voting in the U.S., you’ll see a screen that resembles a computer. You’ll be able to either touch the screen or type in a name with a keyboard, to cast your votes. And if by some odd chance you encounter a paper ballot, all you’ll do is mark a box next to your candidate and issue choices, and drop the ballot into a sealed ballot box.

If it still seems confusing, and you’re still a little nervous, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of us are new at this, too! The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., so get registered, get out there, and make that vote count! Plus, you’ll walk away with pride when you wear that cool “I voted!” sticker afterwards.