What are the requirements to vote in federal elections?

You are eligible to vote in federal elections if:
  • You are a U.S. citizen (either by birth or naturalization)
  • You meet your state's residency requirements
  • You are 18 year old. (Some states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries or register to vote if they will be 18 before the general election).
You must be legally registered to vote in your jurisdiction in order to be able to vote in federal elections. State laws vary on voter requirements.

Help American Vote Act

The Help American Vote Act (“HAVA”) outlines identification requirements and procedures for voting in federal elections. These requirements apply to all 50 states, 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's requirements do 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.

Types of Acceptable HAVA Identification

Under HAVA, individuals who are registering to vote must provide their current valid driver's license number, if they have one. If they do not have one, then they must provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number (SSN). If they do not have either of these forms of identification, then they will have to provide proof of identity at the polling booth when they go to vote.

The following are some examples of documents allowed in some states to establish identity at a voting booth (states may require one or more of certain types of these 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 a person is entitled 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, then he or she is exempt from HAVA’s identification requirements.

States generally are not permitted by HAVA to process voter registration applications unless they contain a driver’s license number and/or at least the last four digits of his or her social security number. If an applicant states that they have neither numbers, then the state must assign him or her 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 must still be allowed 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, every voter is entitled to know if their vote was counted or not. The law facilitates this by requiring each state to develop a system whereby provisional voters may access, for free, information as to the status of their provisional vote. If a person's vote is not counted, the law also requires that the voter be informed as to the reason why their ballot was not tallied.

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