Civil Rights Law

What Are the Requirements To Vote in Federal Elections?

Before you head out to the polls to vote, make sure you’re aware of what you need to legally vote in U.S. federal elections.

You are eligible to vote in United States elections if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are a U.S. citizen either by birth or naturalization
  • You meet your state’s residency requirements (you may still meet these requirements if you are homeless)
  • You are 18 years old and registered to vote (most states will allow you to register to vote at 17, if you will be 18 before the general election)

You must be legally registered to vote in your jurisdiction in order to vote in federal elections. State laws vary on what is required to vote on election day.

Help America Vote Act

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) outlines identification requirements and procedures for voting in federal elections. These requirements apply to every state, as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the United States Virgin Islands. If a state accepts any type of federal funding, it must comply with HAVA.

HAVA does not necessarily apply to all registered voters, though. Those who were registered prior to the law’s enactment in 2002 are not covered. HAVA’s voter ID requirements apply only to voters who are newly registering or re-registering in a different county or location since 2002.

Other Types of Identification

Under HAVA, when you register to vote, you must provide your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security Number (SSN). If you don’t have either of these forms of identification, you may still be able to prove your identity.

Some states allow you to establish your identity at the voting booth with one or more of the following types of documents:

  • A driver’s license or state ID card
  • Passport
  • Employee ID
  • Student ID
  • Military ID
  • Utility bills
  • Bank statements
  • Paychecks

You should check with your local election authorities or your state’s government elections office for a complete list of the specific documents allowed by your state.

Note that if you have the right to vote by absentee ballot or a method other than in-person voting, either pursuant to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act or the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, you are exempt from HAVA’s identification requirements.

HAVA generally does not permit states to process voter registration applications without a driver’s license number or at least the last four digits of your Social Security number. If an applicant states that they have neither number, the state must assign a unique identification number and process the application.

Provisional Voting

What if you don’t have proper identification? Even if voters fail to provide proof of identity at the polling booth, they may still have the right to vote under HAVA. However, their votes will be considered provisional, and will not be counted in the results unless the voter’s identity is confirmed in a timely manner.

Further, you are entitled to know whether your vote was counted. The law requires each state to develop a system whereby provisional voters may access, for free, the status of their provisional vote. If your vote is not counted, the law also requires you to be informed as to the reason your ballot was not tallied.

If You Have Problems Voting

If you meet the requirements for voting and have problems such as accessibility or English-language limitations, you should contact your county government local election office by either by phone or website. You can file a grievance or speak with someone who can help you at the polling place.

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