Voting Rules in the U.S. Are Different in Every State
Federal and state elections in the United States are run by the states themselves, according to Article I and Article II of the Constitution. No two states run their elections exactly the same, so contacting your state or local election office is the best way to find out about your state’s unique election rules.
The Basic Steps to Vote are the Same in Most States
Despite the differences in how states run elections, the basic steps to vote are the same almost everywhere.
Every state except North Dakota requires you to register to vote.
Every state has absentee voting.
Most states assign you a specific polling place, or voting location. A few states have ballot drop sites instead.
These voting guides explain the basics of voting, no matter where you live:
If you're getting ready to vote for the first time, this short video can help. It goes over the basic requirements for voting in the U.S., and explains why it's important to know your state's specific rules for voting.
Are you ready to vote for the first time? If you’re a U.S. citizen, meet your state’s requirements, and will be 18 by Election Day, you can vote.
But first, you need to register before your state’s deadline. Check with your local election office. You can register there or you may be able to register online, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or using the National Mail Voter Registration Form.
Your election office may send you a voter registration card listing your polling place. On Election Day, that’s where you’ll go. When you get there, you may need to show an ID to vote. Then, fill out your ballot. If you don’t know how, ask a poll worker. If you know you won’t be able to get there on Election Day, you may qualify to vote by mail.
Remember, voting rules are different in every state. Learn more about voting at USA.gov/voting
Download the National Mail Voter Registration Form. You can fill it out onscreen and print the completed form, or print the blank form and fill it out by hand. Remember to sign the form before mailing it to the location listed for your state.
Find guidance for states and territories with different registration procedures.
You can register in person with your state or local election office. If it’s more convenient for you to register elsewhere, you can check with one of these nearby public facilities to see if you can register to vote there:
State and county public assistance offices (SNAP/food stamps, WIC, services for the disabled), where you may fill out and submit a National Mail Voter Registration Form.
Overseas and Military Voters
If you’re a U.S. citizen living outside the U.S., or if you’re a service member, service member’s spouse, or eligible family member, you can register to vote and request an absentee ballot through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Register to Vote in Other Languages
The National Mail Voter Registration Form, which you must print, complete, sign, and mail to the location listed for your state, is available in Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
Voter's guides, which include information on registering to vote, are available in Cherokee, Chinese, Dakota, Japanese, Korean, Navajo, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Yupik.
Learn About the Voting Process
If you have questions about the steps involved in voting, these guides from the Election Assistance Commission are a good place to start:
You may be able to make changes to your registration over the phone, online, or by mail.
Your state may require you to register to vote again to change your information.
Why You Should Check Your Registration Information
Each state has different ways to keep voter registration lists up-to-date. Most purge, or delete, the names of inactive voters. If your election office purges your registration and you don’t discover it before you go to vote, you may have to cast a provisional ballot. Checking ahead of time to be sure you are still registered to vote ensures:
Your name, address, and party affiliation information are up-to-date
Your registration wasn’t mistakenly purged by your state from the list of eligible voters
You are able to vote
You’re voting at the correct polling place
How to Check and Change Your Political Party Affiliation
Your political party affiliation is the party that you choose to associate with. You may be asked your party affiliation when you register to vote.
You are not required to join a political party or reveal your party preference when you register to vote.
Not every state accepts or lists a party affiliation on a voter registration card.
When You Should Re-Register or Change Your Registration Information
Anytime you’ve changed your name
Anytime you’ve moved permanently
You’re not permitted to vote in more than one place. When you register to vote in a new location, you’ll give them your previous address. Your new election office will tell your old election office to cancel your registration with them.
Vote in your new location after you’ve changed your registration address.
When You Do NOT Have to Re-Register to Vote or Change Your Registration Information
If your name and address have not changed and you’re an active voter, you should not have to re-register to vote or update your voter registration. Once you’re registered, you are eligible to vote in all elections in your area including:
Federal, state, and local elections
Primary, general, and special elections
Ballot initiatives, referenda, bond issues, and other legislation that appears on the ballot
If you have already registered to vote, you may want to check your registration to make sure it is up-to-date. This short video will explain why it is important to check and how easy it is to do.
Is your voter registration up-to-date? Even if you voted before, from time to time, states and local election offices purge their voter registration lists. They delete people who have moved or who haven’t voted in a long time. And sometimes there’s just an error.
That’s why it’s a good idea to check your registration now to make sure you can vote on Election Day.
Start by finding your local election office at usa.gov/election-office. You may be able to check your registration
Online By phone By mail or In-person
When you’re reviewing your voter registration, here’s what to look for:
Your name is correct and still on the voter list Your address and party affiliation are up-to-date and You’re going to the correct polling place
If you can’t find your name on the voter list or your information is wrong, contact your election office right away to correct the error.
Did you recently move or change your name? Depending on where you live, you’ll need to update your registration or re-register. Ask your election office. Sometimes just moving a few blocks away can actually change your polling place.
And check your registration if you have not voted in the past couple of elections or you didn’t mail back a postcard from your election office. They might consider you inactive and purge your name from the voter registration list. Don’t wait until Election Day to discover you can’t vote. Check your registration now. And learn more about voting at USA.gov/voting.