Primaries for the 2020 presidential election begin February 3rd, so I’m publishing this guide in hopes that, if you haven’t registered to vote or if you’ve never voted before, you might just feel empowered to.
First and foremost, let me remind you that it is your right to vote. Acts of voter suppression abound, so sometimes it might feel like it takes a fight to vote. But, it’s a worthy fight. Voting is one of the few, if not the only, measurable action that the typical citizen can take in the American political system.
First: How do you register?
Registering varies in every state, which is why voting can be difficult for those who have recently moved or have more than one residency (i.e. college students). Below are links where you can find the information needed. Many states offer online registration, which simplifies the process. Also, keep in mind that there are often deadlines for registering! (For example, here in Tennessee, you must register at least 30 days before the next election in order to participate.)
Primary vs. Caucus
Before the general election in November, states hold either a primary or caucus in order to determine one final candidate from each party. Primaries work just like the general election - you fill out your ballot in secret. Caucuses are a bit old-fashioned and involve visibly voting by sitting or standing in the group supporting your preferred candidate. In 2020, only three states and four territories will use caucuses.
In a primary or caucus, you can only vote within one party - you can’t vote for both a Democratic nominee and a Republican nominee. Some states also require you to be registered with the affiliated party - that’s a closed primary. Typically, you will choose your political party when you register to vote, and you are able to change the affiliation in the future. (Note on 2020 Republican primaries: most states are hosting them, some have been cancelled, but most agree that these primaries aren’t going to change the Republican nominee...)
Okay, so, who are you voting for?
People’s reasons for voting for a candidate are often complex, sometimes understandably so. And sometimes, it’s a big fucking mystery. Personally, I vote based on policy. I ask: What policies are most important to me? Who will be the best advocate for those policies?
Here’s a link to a great resource for helping you learn which candidate’s policies you most align with: ISideWith 2020 Political Quiz. The reason ISideWith is so useful is because it allows you to rank each question in terms of importance to you. There are also explanations of questions and links to further reading if you need a refresh or if you are unfamiliar. Once you finish the quiz, you can see which candidates you agree with and what political parties you align with. You can also visually compare your answers to the exact answers from candidates (ISideWith uses statements from campaign websites, speeches, and debates to determine a candidate’s stance and cites the exact source).
Debates can also provide more insight on each candidate - here’s a link for the schedule of all upcoming debates.
Truth is also an important factor when considering different candidates, and truth is more murkier now than ever. Politifact, a fact-checking organization, gives politicians scorecards based on how truthful they are. Take Trump, for example: at the time of this writing, 71% of what he has said has been mostly false, false, or pants-on-fire false. Also, Snopes is a great and reliable resource for fact-checking almost any news story or statement.
What to bring to the polls
Voter ID laws are common, so make sure to check what you need to bring to the polls. Accepted forms of ID vary widely, however, so make sure to double-check what you need (if you need anything at all).
You have the right to vote (and there are alternative methods of voting!)
I’m going to reiterate it. You most likely have the right to vote, so if you do, exercise and assert that right. If you are going to be away from your home on election day, whether for travel or college, the option of early or absentee voting is typically offered. Early voting is usually voting at the polls before the scheduled election day, while absentee voting is by-mail. Absentee voting is the method I used throughout college, and in my experience, I simply had to request a ballot via my state’s website. Then, the ballot was mailed to me, so I voted on my own and mailed it back before the deadline.
If you are scheduled to work on election day, and you want to vote at the polls, most states give you the right to time off work. The time allotted varies, sometimes it’s paid, and sometimes you must give notice. More info for your state here!
If you miss primaries, don’t let that stop you from registering and voting in the general election. Or if your preferred candidate doesn’t win the primary, don’t let that stop you either. Seriously - we have a sitting president who has been impeached, yet somehow still has a shot at winning in 2020. Vote. Mark your calendar for Tuesday, November 3rd.
If you’re living in Nashville or in a nearby city, remember that the October 22, 2020 Presidential Debate is going to be held at Belmont University!! (Full disclosure: I am a recent grad of Belmont so I am particularly excited about this.) No information regarding tickets has been released yet, but the official website is right here.
Remember, don’t let anyone suppress your vote.
Here’s a full list of the above links and other sources I utilized for those of you who want to dive in even deeper:
Your state’s official website
Voting in College:
Voter ID Laws:
Closed vs. Open Primaries:
Another guide to primaries:
Who to vote for?:
Alternative Voting Methods:
Time Off Work Laws:
October 22, 2020 Presidential Debate at Belmont University: