Now that the elections are right around the corner, you’ve no doubt seen a flurry of posts about it on social media. Maybe you’ve gotten some pamphlets in the mail or caught a political ad on TV or online. If you’ve never voted before, figuring out where to start can be a little nerve-wracking. Maybe you’ve just turned 18 and this is your first time voting. Perhaps, you’ve sat out politics up until now. Or, maybe you’re a new US citizen and the political system is a bit overwhelming.
Either way—never cast a ballot? This is what you need to know before you do.
Check the basics: Can you vote? Are you registered? Where do you go?
First things first. Let’s make sure you’re checked off the boxes so you can vote for the first time. Every US citizen has the right to vote during an election. You can also cast a ballot if you meet your state’s residency requirements. Online voting registration is available for 37 states plus the District of Columbia. If you’re not in of the states providing online registration, you can check out Vote.org for details on your state’s mail-in or in-person registration process.
Once you’re registered, you can also find our your specific polling place where you’ll cast your ballot. While you can technically vote at other polling places, this means you will have to cast a provisional ballot (in which your ballot only counts when you can prove your proof of address or ID). In other words, you want to get your polling place correct and pre-register because the voting system runs smoother when they have your information on file and can confirm your voting eligibility.
You can check where your polling place is by looking up details on your local election office. Otherwise, expect a voter guide to be mailed to the address you registered (it’ll have your polling place listed).
Research the candidates and issues
Oh, and you’ll want to make sure to research all the candidates and any issues on the ballot as well. While we won’t be voting for a new commander-in-chief, every two years during the midterm elections is—of course—when we vote on Congressional candidates and those seeking re-election. During the midterms, all 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for election (or re-election) while only a third of the Senate is voted on. During this election, you might also vote on your state’s governor, confirm judicial appointees, and other local elected officials. If you live in a state like California, you might also get the chance to vote on statewide propositions, where voters directly decide whether a referendum or initiative can amend the state constitution or another local law.
We’ve rounded up some of the best voter guide websites that will help you do some last-minute research on candidates and issues. You can even draft up a mock ballot to take with you to the polls. Check them out here.
For more up-to-the-minute info, you can follow these journalists and activists for news on the midterms. And, to get yourself more acquainted with the US political system, you can listen to these podcasts for all the latest news.
Make a plan for when you’ll vote and how you’ll get there
Now that you know your polling place and know what’s on the ballot, make a plan for how you’ll get to your polling place. Your employer can’t prevent you from voting, but they’ll appreciate a head’s up about when you plan on doing so. Let your boss know whether you’ll be in late for the morning or if you’ll need to leave work early to cast a ballot. Just keep in mind that if you’re voting in the morning or early evening, you might run into longer lines.
Encourage others to vote, too
You know what’s even better than voting? Getting other people to vote. Make a plan with your friends and family to head to the polls together. Encourage others to cast a ballot—after all, there’s no shortage of issues at stake!