How voter registration works across the United States

Daron Shaw
Commentary

Daron Shaw

Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Video Library |

When U.S. citizens want to exercise their right to vote in America, they must first register. But the rules and requirements vary from state to state.

“It’s important to remember that we do not register nationally in the United States. Rather we register at the level of the county,” Professor Daron Shaw said.

Why are voters required to register?

“County level registration ensures that voters are essentially assigned to precincts so that they are voting for people who will actually represent them in government,” Shaw said. “If voters are registered to vote, it’s easier to prevent them from voting multiple times, from voting in an incorrect jurisdiction or making some other such error, intentional or otherwise.”

How to register

The vast majority of states, 42 plus the District of Columbia, offer online registration. The rest require applications by mail or in person.

To complete a registration, voters need proof of residency, which includes a drivers license, a paycheck or utility bill, among other options. It’s also necessary to have a photo ID or social security number.

“So even in states that don’t require voter ID in order to vote, in order to register you do have to provide a photo identification,” Shaw said.

When can voters register?

30 states have set deadlines which usually fall 8 to 30 days before the election.

There’s an easier option, called same day registration, available in 20 states plus D.C. It allows voters to walk into the polling location, register, and cast their ballot on election day.

National Conference of State Legislatures

“So if you think of voting as a two step process in the United States, first you have to register then you have to cast a ballot,” Shaw explained. “In 20 of the 50 states plus D.C., that first step is essentially done simultaneously with the second step. So it really is only a one step process.”

To learn about state specific deadlines and requirements, visit vote.gov.

Voter registration. It’s the first step citizens take to exercise their right to vote. But the  rules and requirements vary from state to state. 

Here to explain is Straight Arrow News Contributor Professor Daron Shaw. 

Shaw says: “It’s important to remember that we do not register nationally in the United States. Rather we register at the level of the county. County level registration ensures voters are assigned to precincts so that they are voting for people who will actually represent them in government.” 

But first – why are voters required to register? 

Shaw says: “If voters are registered to vote it’s easier to prevent them from voting multiple times, from voting in an incorrect jurisdiction or making some other such area, either intentionally or otherwise.” 

42 states and DC offer online registration. 

The rest require applications by mail or in person. 

To complete your registration, you need proof of residency. That includes a drivers license, a paycheck or utility bill, among other options. Next, you need a photo ID, or your social security number.  

Shaw says: “So even in states that don’t require Voter ID in order to vote, in order to register you do have to provide a photo identification.” 

Finally – when can you register? 

In 30 states, there are set deadlines – usually 8 to 30 days before the election. 

20 states plus DC offer same day registration. Meaning you can walk into the polling location, register, and cast your ballot on election day. 

Shaw said: “So if you think of voting as a two step process in the united states, first you have to register then you have to cast a ballotthat first step is essentially done simultaneously with the second step. So it really is a one step process.” 

To learn about state specific deadlines and requirements visit vote.gov. For more information on voting and elections in America, continue watching our series on youtube or straightarrownews.com. 

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