- September 22 is National Voter Registration Day.
- Deadlines to register for the November presidential election are coming up soon in over a dozen states.
- Voter registration rates have sharply declined in many states due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused motor vehicle offices to shut down and drastically limited in-person voter registration drives.
- Below, see the deadlines to register to vote, where you can register to vote online, and where you can register in-person on Election Day itself.
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Tuesday, September 22 is National Voter Registration Day, and voter registration deadlines for the November 3 presidential election are already coming up in over a dozen states.
Every US state except for North Dakota requires citizens to properly registered to vote with their state and county election officials in order to cast a ballot. In North Dakota, voters are required to present identification proving their residency in the state at the polls to cast a ballot.
You must be 18 years of age on Election Day and a US citizen to be eligible to vote anywhere in the United States. On your voter registration form, you’ll have to provide both your date of birth and address and either your driver’s license or state ID card number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
National Voter Registration Day will look a little different in the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauren Kunis, the program director for National Voter Registration Day, told Insider that the group and its hundreds of corporate and nonprofit partner organizations are aiming to break their previous all-time record set in 2018 and register over 865,000 voters today alone, pandemic or bust.
“When the pandemic hit, we still felt confident about our ability to have an impact,” Kunis said. “If anything, the need for our work was even more urgent, because COVID-19 has had a very dramatic effect on voter registration levels nationwide. It became clear to us that we needed to make an impact, not just despite the pandemic, but because of the pandemic.”
When is the deadline to register to vote?
There is no single national voter registration deadline for the upcoming presidential election. Instead, states set their own individual deadlines to register to vote, and many allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day itself.
This chart shows the last day to register to vote with each available method: in-person, by mail, or online, in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia.
The deadline to register to vote is coming up in less than two weeks on October 4 in Alaska and Rhode Island and on October 5 in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Can I register to vote online?
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently allow residents to register to vote online through or portal or with a digital signature. New Jersey recently became the latest state to roll out an online voter registration platform.
Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming currently do not offer online voter registration.
If you live in one of those places and aren’t registered yet, you must register to vote either in-person at your local elections office or with a paper application mailed to your local election office by your state’s deadline. In Texas, you can fill out a form online to receive a paper voter registration application with prepaid postage.
In some states that allow online registration, however, you may not be able to use the online registration portal and will have to register by mail if you don’t have a valid driver’s license or non-driver ID card issued by your state’s motor vehicle registry. Be sure to check your state’s requirements and allow yourself enough time to get a paper form if necessary.
Kunis told Insider that National Voter Day now offers an online tool where individuals can input their information and get a pre-filled paper voter registration form and envelope sent to their house that they can then sign and send in.
“It was more difficult in those states to begin with,” Kunis said of states without an online option. “But now because people are not in their offices or on their campuses, when you can’t register online and you don’t have access to a printer, the barriers are even that more real. But the good news is they’re not insurmountable by any measure.”
Can I register to vote on Election Day?
In many states, yes! Twenty-one states and the District of the Columbia currently allow those who missed the deadline to register online or by mail to register on Election Day itself or during early voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, a process known as same-day registration.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming will allow voters to register on Election Day while North Carolina and New Mexico allow voters to register during early voting.
Every state that offers same-day registration requires voters to present one or more forms of identification to prove their residency and eligibility to vote.
While some states allow voters to directly register and cast a ballot at their polling location, others require voters to register that their county elections office before going to vote at their assigned polling site.
If you plan to register on Election Day, be sure to check with your state and local officials websites’ to see what forms of identification you’ll need to bring and where you need to go on Election Day, whether it be a polling place or government office, to register.
Thirty-four states will also require voters to show either a non-photo or photo ID to vote at the polls — you can see each state’s requirements here.
How has the pandemic changed voter registration?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many of the traditional election year voter registration activities to a grinding halt and exacerbated the difficulties of registering for many already under-served communities.
“Voter registration has always been a barrier, and we know this because of the number of people that try to go to vote on Election Day and find themselves not registered,” Myrna Pérez, the Director of the Democracy and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Insider in June. “But it’s even worse now…because of all the changes we’ve had deal with to contend with COVID-19.”
The most common way new voters registered to vote in 2016 was through a visit to their state’s motor vehicle registry with online registration and registrations by mail tied for the second-most-common method, according to a study from the US Election Assistance Commission.
Under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, or the “Motor Voter” law, motor vehicle and other government agencies are required to offer voter registration forms to individuals who interact with their offices.
But with states extending expiration dates for driver’s licenses, motor vehicle offices largely shut down or only open by appointment, and many in-person gatherings banned, rates of new registrations took a sharp nosedive in many states during the pandemic.
A recent Brennan Center Analysis found that in 21 states that publish up-to-date statewide voter registration statistics, 17 saw noticeable declines in their rates of new voter registration over the same period in 2016, with those states seeing a 38% decline over 2016 levels on average.
Kunis told Insider that in addition to expanding existing online registration efforts, the pandemic has propelled “a huge uptick” in National Voter Registration’s Day’s corporate, small business, and nonprofit partner organizations alike coming up with new initiatives to help register and engage voters like never before.
“There’s been a lot of talk about what’s essential and what’s not in the pandemic. People are recognizing that voting is essential, voter registration is an essential service, and it’s actually more important this year than ever before,” Kunis said, later adding: “I think there’s been a huge shift in norms and expectations from the part of consumers and employees alike terms of how companies and brands can and should do their part to strengthen our democracy.”
In addition to big social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat prominently featuring voter registration and ballot request tools on their platform, Kunis says she’s seen local grocery stores, food banks, and health clinics give out voter registration forms or information about voting. Many big retail chains are also using their platforms to reach large numbers of consumers to conduct voter mobilization, and in some days, give employees time off to vote or serve as poll workers
“Right now, one in four eligible Americans is not registered to vote and that’s even higher if you look at youth and communities of color,” Kunis said. “And I think companies are really powerfully and uniquely positioned to be a different messenger and be a very trusted source of nonpartisan information for their communities.”
Around this time of a presidential election year, college campuses too are usually bustling with in-person voter registration drives, civic engagement events hosted by clubs and outside figures, and efforts to help students return their absentee ballots.
Manny Rin, the director of the New Voters’ Project at the Student Public Interest Research Groups, told Insider that with many colleges now holding the fall semester entirely remotely or limiting in-person gatherings, students are still organizing their peers and conducting voter education, especially around mail ballots, virtually.
“It has presented a lot of new challenges,” Rin told Insider of campus voter mobilization in 2020. “But we found that generation Z and millennials, more so than any others, are uniquely set up to interact with their peers through online forums. Growing up with social media and just being way more literate when it comes to the tools that we use for outreach has actually kind of expanded the organizing toolbox we use.”
When is Election Day 2020?
The last day of voting in the 2020 presidential election is Tuesday, November 3.