Are you really all set to cast your vote during this year’s election? Are you sure? The answer might surprise you.

By Zara Husaini Hanawalt
September 27, 2016
Tetra Images/Getty Images

Taking the time out of your busy schedule to go and vote on Election Day is totally doable (and so important!), but let’s face it: You’ll probably have to shift a few commitments around in order to get to your poll location and cast your vote. The last thing you want is to be told you’re unable to vote when you get there.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure your voter registration is current and up-to-date. We know what you’re thinking: You’re registered to vote and have been for years. What could possibly interfere with that?

But are you really, really sure you’re eligible to vote in this year’s election? We asked Kiki Burger, who handles marketing and partnerships at Rock The Vote, to explain some of the most common factors that can affect your voting eligibility. While it turns out that your registration doesn’t have an expiration date, per se, there are some surprising factors that could affect the standing of your registration—and since Election Day will be here before you know it, it pays to double check that your status, especially if any of the following six things apply to you.

1. You’ve moved since the last election.

“We recommend checking your voter registration status before every election…or just re-register to be safe,” Burger says. “While registration doesn't really expire or become invalid, it likely needs to be updated often—especially if you move around a lot! If you have moved since you registered, even within the same city or just down street, you will need to re-register.”

2. You’ve changed your name.

If you’ve recently changed your name, you’ll want to update that as well, as this information doesn’t automatically get updated when you make the legal change. Keep in mind that the name on your voter registration must match what shows up on your valid government ID.

3. You haven’t voted for a while.

Name and address changes are pretty straightforward, but there are some unexpected factors that could influence your eligibility for the upcoming election as well. For example: Did you know that if you haven’t voted for a few cycles, you may not be ready for this year’s election either? “States update their voter files periodically to make sure only eligible people are able to cast a ballot, meaning they try to remove people that are no longer at that address or have passed away,” Burger explains. “Different states update their voter rolls at different times, and sometimes, unfortunately, infrequent voters can be incorrectly removed from the lists.”

4. You’ve had mental health or legal issues.

Those who have faced legal troubles or mental health issues may want to double check their eligibility as well. Both issues are handled by individual states, so it’s very tough to predict the issues that could come into play or the policies that surround them. With that being said, Burger says it’s entirely possible that your registration status could be influenced by things that appear on your legal or medical records. Double check to be safe!

5. You’ve moved to a state with different (or non-existent!) registration requirements.

Maybe you’ve moved away from one state, only to realize that you do need to submit registration in your new home. People who live in California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, or West Virginia can benefit from authorized automatic voter registration, which means you can automatically be added to the rolls by the DMV—unless you verbally opt out of this option, according to Burger. And that's great—but remember that if you leave one of these states, you may need to take the initiative to register on your own if your new state doesn’t have this policy. And residents of North Dakota don’t need to register in order to vote at all!

6. You haven’t familiarized yourself with your state’s residency requirements.

Ultimately, the most complicated part of all this is that every state handles matters like these differently. “You should pay special attention to your state’s voting laws about residency,” Burger says. “The timeline after you register depends on your state’s voter registration laws, but in most states you’ll be eligible to vote immediately after registering to vote. However, it’s important to note that most states have registration deadlines that come weeks or months before any given election, so you should make sure to check your state’s deadline and re-register before it’s too late.”

If you vote regularly, are at the same address, and haven’t changed your name, you’re probably all set to vote in this election—but why take a chance? We would definitely suggest making sure you’re still registered to vote (which you can do with this handy tool!) as soon as possible.


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