Even though voter registration happens at a state level, the rules for who can vote are set nationally. With the 2020 election coming up, now is the time to make sure your voter registration is current and ready to go.
If you have not registered to vote yet, be sure to do so before your state’s deadline. Depending on your state, not registering enough ahead of time may lock you out of the next election completely.
Before registering, however, you need to find out if you’re even eligible to vote in 2020. Trying to cast a ballot if you are not eligible to vote can lead to fines, felony charges and even a prison sentence. The sections below explain who can vote in 2020, how you can lose your voting rights and what to do if you feel your vote is being suppressed.
Who can vote?
The laws around who can vote in federal elections are simpler today than ever. To be eligible to vote, you must be:
- A U.S. citizen.
- A resident in your state.
- 18 years or older.
Even though your state may have additional rules, these are the basic requirements for all voters.
Who cannot vote?
You cannot vote in a presidential election if you are younger than 18 or are not a U.S. citizen. However, some states may have more requirements for their voters.
A few states, for example, take away felon voting rights from citizens convicted of certain crimes, even after their sentence is over. Others take away voting rights for incarcerated people but restore those rights after they have served their sentences.
The answer to the question, “Who can vote in primaries?” also varies by state. There are three types of primaries:
- Closed primaries: Some states, like Florida, have closed primaries. This means that you must be a member of a political party in order to vote in that party’s primary election.
- Open primaries: If your state has open primaries, you can vote in any party’s primary election regardless of your affiliation. However, you cannot vote in more than one party’s election.
- Semi-open primaries: These are also called hybrid or semi-closed primaries. This type of primary allows unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in any one party’s primary.
Voting Rights You Need to Know About
In addition to being eligible to vote in national and state elections, there are a few other voting rights U.S. citizens should be aware of.
To help voters with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has certain rules that all polling places must follow. These rules require polling locations to make reasonable accommodations for voters with disabilities. This means that all voting locations must have:
- Handrails on stairs.
- Wide entrances.
- Booths that can fit wheelchairs.
If you have a disability that makes it hard for you to visit a polling place in person, you may be able to vote by mail, depending on your state. Additionally, voters who cannot read or write can bring someone to assist them in the booths.
One of the most important rights all voters have is the right to cast a ballot anonymously. Also known as the “Australian ballot,” the secret ballot allows you to vote without worrying about intimidation, bribery, retaliation or blackmail. To protect the right to a secret ballot, all voting booths have privacy screens or similar features.
Voter Suppression and Election Fraud
National and local elections are essential to keeping our country running. To make sure that elections are fair and honest, it is important for politicians, election officials and voters alike follow the rules.
In general, the laws governing elections fall into two main categories:
- Voter suppression laws
- Voter fraud laws
Election fraud is very serious. It happens when someone who cannot legally vote tries to cast a ballot anyway. Fortunately, voter fraud and illegal voting are extremely rare in the United States.
Voter suppression, on the other hand, is when government officials make it harder for eligible citizens to vote. This includes tactics like making it harder to prove your identity at the polls, taking away access to early voting and decreasing the number of voter registration drives. Some voting advocates even say gerrymandering and unfair redistricting are types of voter suppression.