In case you missed it, September 25th was National Voter Registration Day. The national holiday was first observed in 2012 and is held on the fourth Tuesday of September. The goal of the initiative, as stated on the National Voter Registration Day’s website, is “to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise.” Registering to vote, or updating your registration, is the first step in participating in the political process and making a difference. However, there are steps that you should take afterwards to make sure that you are an informed voter.

Check your polling location

The first time I went to vote, I knew I had the correct building because it was where my parents had always taken me when they voted, but I didn’t know that the building housed multiple precincts. I walked into the first room I saw and was told I was in the wrong room! You can check your polling location on your state’s Secretary of State’s website, but make sure you know which precinct you live in. That way, you aren’t driving all over town on Election Day in order to find the correct place.

Research your candidates for office

In the general election, everyone gets the same ballot. It doesn’t matter what letter is next to your name — everyone is going head to head for the office on Election Day. In the digital age, everyone has a campaign Facebook or Twitter page, and if the person has been in office before, they have a voting record. Take an hour or two to look up their policy positions, voting record (if they have one), endorsements, and public statements. Their positions, usually posted on their campaign website, and voting records are going to be the largest indicator of how they will act once elected. Too often, people pick the candidate based solely on name recognition. Doing this can help someone who has voted against your interests in the past.

If you are busy on Election Day, research alternatives

If you cannot make it to the polls on November 6th for any reason, research your alternatives. Many states have early voting options, where you can stop by your county courthouse or any designated location and cast your ballot before November 6th. This period usually lasts 2-3 weeks leading up to Election Day. If you will not be in your hometown, or the place you are registered for, request an absentee ballot. This is a popular one for college students or those who work. An absentee ballot can be sent to wherever you are currently living and you can fill it out and mail it back in a prepaid envelope. You do have to apply for an absentee ballot. The applications are due six (6) days prior to Election Day, so if my math is right, make sure to mail yours in by October 29th! Usually offices don’t include weekends in the days count, so make sure to get your application in early.

Millions of people have died for our right to vote. Our forefathers fought in the Revolutionary War so that the people would have a say in who runs the country. People continue to serve in the military to defend that same idea. Registering to vote is a great way to get people involved, but an uninformed voter is almost as bad as someone who doesn’t vote at all. Be educated about the person whose name you select on your ballot, and be proud of your vote.

Jillian K