The 2022 midterm elections will take place on November 8, with a number of issues — like abortion access, inflation, and immigration — and a handful of high-profile races — in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada — top of mind for voters. However, access to the polls has never been more fraught: As Vox’s Fabiola Cineas reported, 18 states had passed 34 new laws restricting voting as of May. With this in mind, knowing how and where to vote, and what to expect — including your rights on Election Day — has never been more important.
Before Americans cast their ballot, they’ll want to make sure they’re registered to vote, know where their polling place is, and what forms of identification to bring with them (if any). Here’s what you should know about voting in this election.
Register to vote
You must be registered to vote before stepping into the voting booth. (Except in North Dakota, which does not have voter registration.) Some states, like California, Washington, Michigan, and Maine, allow same-day registration at the polls on Election Day. Other states require voters to register anywhere from 10 days (Massachusetts) to 30 days (Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio) ahead of the election. The US Vote Foundation has a tool that lists election deadlines, including for voter registration, by state. Depending on where you live, you can register online, in person at a local election office, or by mail. Vote.gov has state-by-state resources on how to register to vote.
In order to register to vote, you must be a US citizen, at least 18 years old by Election Day, and meet your state’s eligibility requirements. In some states, people currently incarcerated or convicted for a felony do not have the right to vote. Democracy Works has an online tool that lists voter requirements and registration options (including registration forms) for each state.
If you can’t remember whether you’re registered to vote, you can check online. For people who moved, or changed their name or party affiliation, since the last election, you’ll need to update your voter registration. You can change this information online, by mail, or in person the same way you would to register. If you moved to another state, you will need to re-register in your new state.
Ways to vote
How much flexibility you have about when and where you vote depends on where you live. Voters can cast their ballots in person on Election Day, in person during early voting, or by mail (also referred to as voting absentee). Some states — like California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — do not require voters to list a reason to vote by mail. Voters in states like Alabama and Kentucky must give a reason to vote by mail, like being too sick to vote or not being in the country. Be aware of both the deadlines for requesting a mail ballot and for postmarking it in order to be counted; you can find both dates by selecting your state on the US Vote Foundation’s tool. Either mail your ballot in via USPS or locate a dropbox.
If you are traveling or have to work a long shift on Election Day, you may want to vote early in person. Early voting windows vary from state to state (and even county to county) and can begin as early as 45 days before the election ( like in Vermont). Check to see your state’s rules for early in-person voting and where you can cast your vote before Election Day.
For in-person voting on Election Day, you can find your polling place on your state’s board of elections website, which you can find on Vote.org. All you’ll need is to enter your name and/or address. Most states have laws allowing employees to take time off to vote, but specifics vary from state to state. For example, workers in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are not paid for time off to vote. Other states, including Idaho, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, and Virginia, do not have laws granting employees time off to vote. Workers in states like Maryland and Oklahoma must show their employers proof that they voted or attempted to vote.
A final method of voting is via a provisional ballot. This occurs when a voter’s name is not on the voter roll but the person believes they are registered. They can cast their vote on a provisional ballot that won’t be counted until the registration status of the person is confirmed after the polls close. Local election officials will verify the voter’s identity and the voter may have to confirm their address or other information. The main reasons provisional ballots are rejected are when the voter is not registered in the state they are trying to vote in, or they are in the wrong jurisdiction.
Who’s on the ballot?
Aside from races for governor, Senate, and House of Representatives, you may also be voting for the lieutenant governor, state attorney general, secretary of state, state legislators, judges, mayor, district attorney, city council, and ballot measures. You can look up a sample ballot on Ballotpedia to find out which candidates are running for which seats in your district. Ballotpedia also explains the wording and interpretation of ballot measures, which can be difficult to parse.
To find out where these candidates stand on important issues, you can check their campaign websites, read local news coverage, and tune in to debates.
What to expect on Election Day
Before you show up to your polling place, double check the hours the site opens and closes. While it differs by state (and even by county), most polling stations open between 6 and 9 am and close between 6 and 9 pm local time. Remember, if you are still in line when the polls close, you are allowed to vote, so don’t leave.
Once inside, you’ll check in with a poll worker who will find your name on the list of registered voters. If the poll worker says they can’t find your name, ask if they can check a statewide list or help you make sure you’re at the correct polling place. If they still can’t find your name, ask for a provisional ballot.
Some states require voters to show identification prior to voting — like Indiana and Wisconsin — or ask that first-time voters show ID. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists the voter ID laws for each state.
The poll worker will then show you to the voting machine or where you’ll fill out a paper ballot and tell you how to cast your vote. Poll workers are available to answer any questions you may have.
Voters with disabilities can ask for a chair to sit in, a quiet place to wait for their turn to vote, and to use a voting machine that assists those with vision and mobility disabilities — every polling place must have at least one. Voters with disabilities and who have trouble reading and writing English can also bring a family member or friend to offer assistance.
If anyone questions you about your citizenship, your criminal history, your ethnicity, your race, the language you speak, or your education level, that’s voter intimidation — and it’s illegal. Other examples of voter intimidation include violent behavior inside and outside the polling place, blocking the entrance of a polling place, displaying weapons, threats of violence, and spreading false information of voter fraud.
According to the ACLU, “if your qualifications are challenged, you can give a sworn statement that you satisfy the qualifications to vote in your state, and then proceed to cast a regular ballot.”
Report an instance of voter intimidation, whether you yourself experienced it or you witnessed it, to your local election officials and the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español).
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