Voting is a powerful way to impact the future. It’s a version of civic engagement that accomplishes more than electing candidates. Voting spotlights issues, showcases the political power of groups, and influences the issue agenda of our political parties. In Virginia, Voting plays a crucial role in our democratic system because our elections are always close.
At the same time, voting might seem intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. This election-- like literally every other one-- is repeatedly called “the most important election of our lifetime.” So while it’s certainly true that every election impacts our lives, don’t let the significance of elections dissuade you from participating. Your voice matters as long as you use it.
If the previous (albeit corny) sentence didn’t quell your fears as a first time voter, maybe a quick overview of the voting process will. So without further adieu, here’s what to expect when you're electing in Virginia.
You might vote in a weird location.
Most people vote in either a school or library. Sometimes, however, precincts are found in peculiar spaces. It’s not unprecedented to vote in a fire or police station, a church, on a farm, even a hair salon! The best way to avoid the shock (and location) of your polling place is by looking up your precinct prior to the election. Use the tool below to find yours!
You might have to wait in a (really) long line.
So many people, so few locations to vote. Long lines are sad reality of election day, especially in urban areas. Long lines can suck, but, remember, democracy is worth it. However, your schedule may prevent you from standing in line too long. If that’s the case, follow these tips to avoid the voting rush hours:
Go to the polls early or mid-afternoon on election day. Polls are open from 6AM-7PM. Best way to avoid lines is by voting during the first two hours or between 2PM and 4PM. Also remember that Virginia law allows you to vote after 7PM as long as you are in line by 6:59PM!
Vote absentee. Do this even if there is the tiniest chance you won’t be able to make it to the polls on election day. Voting absentee is pretty easy, and we’ve created helpful guides and resources to help you do it! Hurry though, because the last day to vote absentee is October 30th by mail and November 2nd in person!
Candidates are not the choices on your ballot.
Voting influences a lot more than an individual’s political career. This year, every Virginia ballot includes two referendums (<—changes or additions to Virginia’s state constitution). Even though the health of our demorcracy depends on informed voting, it’s actually pretty difficult to locate information on all candidates and referendums. That is unless you click the button below because our BallotReady tool provides all the information about YOUR ballot in one place!
You must show a valid, photo ID to vote.
Virginia is one of the 17 states that require a photo ID to cast a ballot (lucky us…). Generally speaking, most government-issued IDs are accepted if they display a photo. Find the whole list with the link below, but here’s the most relevant TL:DR:
Your Virginia driver license is acceptable even if the address does not match where you are registered.
Public and private Student IDs are all valid forms as long as they come from a Virginia Institution.
When in doubt, use a passport if you have one.
There’s a small chance your eligibility to vote will be questioned, but that’s an easy fix.
It is unlikely you’ll be denied a ballot if you registered before October 15th, 2018. Unfortunately, our elections are imperfect, and a denial may happen through no fault of your own. You can almost always rectify the situation with one of the following:
Show your voter registration card. Sometimes the denial is the product of a clerical error. Bring your voter registration card, the one mailed to you after you registered, to prove you can vote in that precinct.
Call Voteriders or another protect-the-vote organization. Poll workers aren’t lawyers so a denial may come from a misinterpretation of the law. Orgs like Voteriders provide free, immediate, legal guidance in cases where a person is turned away at the polls. If denied on election day, call (844) 338-8743 to get help.
Request a Provisional Ballot. A provisional ballot is given to voters who wish to vote, but their eligibility is in question. Once a provisional ballot is cast, the voter must follow-up with the board of elections to prove their eligibility. Hopefully, you won’t end up in this situation, but, you’ll find your rights as a Virginia voter below in case you want to be extra prepared. Remember, election day is about making your voice count. So if your eligibility is in question, ask for a provisional ballot!
You will take an “I Voted Sticker” selfie...
This expectation is pretty obvious. If we don’t believe in the power of our own voice, then neither will our elected officials. Conversely, democracy works best when more people participate. So take pride in voting in the most millennial way possible! Not only is it totally cool to celebrate your civic duty on social media, but your post will encourage others to get to make an impact this election and beyond!
About the Author
Tim Cywinski is the Director of Engagement at Virginia21. He is responsible for coordinating action among all Virginia21 leaders, managing the organization's program, building relationships with other like-minded organizations and the press, and creating educational content. In addition to serving on the civic engagement committee for the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals, Tim presents trainings on advocacy, strategic communications, and lobbying to various audiences around the Commonwealth. Tim earned a bachelor’s in Political Science from Roanoke College, and he now resides in Richmond, VA. In his free time, Tim enjoys playing kickball, writing, and forcing friends to attend his karaoke “concerts”.