News & Politics

Protect Your Vote! Deadlines for Voter Registration Are Nearing in 7 Crucial Swing States

Registering to vote has gotten easier, with more online options for voters.

There are all sorts of scenarios for how the GOP might steal the 2012 election, but this much is certain: that becomes much harder to do if there is higher voter turnout, which hinges on voter registration. In seven of the ten swing states, registration deadlines for the November election are quickly approaching—in early October.

In Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire, voters can register and vote on Election Day. But in the others—Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida—you must register, usually one month ahead.

What follows is a swing state-by-swing state rundown of voter registration deadlines and other state-specific considerations—in response to recent Republican-backed changes in state laws intended to thwart and discourage Democratic voting blocks. It’s not very difficult to get past these hurdles if you are paying attention.

The first step in voting in the 2012 presidential election is to make sure your registration is valid, which is especially important for new voters, people who moved since they last voted and newly married women who have changed their legal name. Next is having the proper ID needed on Election Day—most states require new voters to vote in polling places. The last step is knowing that youknow these rules, in case GOP troublemakers try to intimidate you or impede your rights.

In every state, to be an eligible voter you must be: a U.S. citizen, over age 18, satisfy state residency requirements, not be convicted of a crime that can nullify your voting rights (usually a felony) or have that right restored, and not be judged to be mentally incompetent by a court. In recent years, the GOP has sought to add another factor—whether or not you have a specific kind of state-issued photo ID. That’s what many ongoing lawsuits are now  about. People who favor less restrictions are winning a majority of these, but they typically have been appealed by the GOP. 

Swing State No. 1: Florida

Florida is the biggest swing state, with 29 Electoral College votes. Florida voters must register 29 days before the election, which for the 2012 presidential election is Monday, October 8, which is Columbus Day—a holiday. That means the deadline is Tuesday, October 9. (This link is to the state’s info page.) Be smart and do it sooner.

Florida voters must sign and mail their voter registration application to their county election supervisor’s office—not the state. There’s another big factor for registered Florida voters. Even though the state’s voter registration system is electronic and can easily move your file anywhere in the state, the state’s ruling Tea Party Republicans passed a law requiring that anyone who moved since they last voted to update their registration address with county election offices by re-registering. That’s a big pain.

If you don’t update your address, you’ll get pulled aside by pollworkers on Election Day and given a provisional ballot—and then be required to present proof of your new address at county election offices within a few days before your ballot is officially counted. This is a ridiculous and unnecessary step, but it’s the law.

Swing State No. 2: Ohio

Ohio has a 30-day voter registration deadline, which falls on Sunday, October 7—the weekend. That means the final day for registering to vote is Tuesday, October 9 due to the Columbus Day holiday. Because Ohio has online voter registration, you can fill out a application online—which has to be printed out, signed and mailed to the county board of elections.

If you have moved since you have last voted, you also must update your registration address to get a regular ballot. You can do that online, or print a change of address form and then mail that to your county board of elections.

Swing State No. 3: Michigan

Michigan also has a 30-day voter registration deadline, which falls on Tuesday, October 9 because of the Columbus Day holiday. Here's  a link to a general information page for Michigan voters, and another page that allows anyone who has a driver’s license to see their information on file. If you recently moved, you must update your information.

Ruth Johnson, the state’s Tea Party secretary of state, has added a new feature to the state’s voter registration form—a box to check that you are a U.S. citizen. This is a silly feature, because anyone who signs a voter registration application in any state is swearing under penalty of perjury that all the information is correct. Don’t be put off by it.

Michigan, with 16 Electoral College votes, has a little-known provision in its election laws that allows anyone who is registered to vote—but whose information somehow isn’t in their polling place’s registered voter lists—to sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility, which then will give them a regular ballot instead of a provisional ballot. That’s not exactly Election Day registration, but it does enable voters who moved and married women who didn’t update their voter files to vote and be counted.

Swing State No. 4: North Carolina

North Carolina has a 25-day voter registration deadline, which falls on Friday, October 5. The forms are available online and have to be mailed to the county board of elections. The state Board of Elections also says that people who moved or married and changed their names since the last election should update their voter registration records. The state’s website makes it easy to see what your voter information is currently.

North Carolina also is one of the few states that allow teenagers 16 and older to pre-register to vote before their 18th birthday if they will be 18 by Election Day. Voting rights and youth voting advocates have applauded that feature.

Swing State No. 5: Virginia

Virginia has a 22-day voter registration deadline, which falls on Monday, October 15. The state’s registration website has information for new and existing voters, and tells new registrants to print the forms, fill them out carefully—including adding a Social Security number which will be used as a unique identifier—and then delivering it to local election offices before the registration deadline. The state’s website allows people to look up their registration information, as well as view sample ballots, polling place locations and local election office contract information.

Registered voters who moved within the state since the last election have a few options to be able to vote in November. The state requires a change of address form be filed—and these are only available at state motor vehicle offices, not online. However, Virginia is among a few states that will let a registered voter cast a ballot at their old polling place, unless their registration has been transferred or cancelled. Half a loaf is better than none. In contrast, people who changed their name have to re-register before the deadline.

Swing State No. 6: Colorado

Colorado, like other western states, mostly votes by mail and then, on Election Day, at vote centers. The state has a 29-day registration deadline, which falls on Tuesday, Oct. 9. Voters can register online if they have a state driver’s license and then request an absentee ballot online up to seven days before the election. If they don’t have a driver’s license, they can print a registration application from the state website, fill it out and mail it to either county election offices or the Secretary of State’s office.  

Unlike other swing states, registered voters who have moved within Colorado can submit a change of address form online up to Tuesday, October 30. After the 30, they have to show up at a county election office to change their address if they want to vote in the 2012 presidential election. The state’s website also has registration forms in Spanish.

Swing State No. 7: Nevada

Nevada has several different voter registration deadlines. For people mailing in forms, there is a 30-day deadline, which falls on Sunday, October 7; so that means they should mail it on Friday the 5th. But a person may register in person at their county election office through Tuesday, October 16. County election offices are open for extended hours on these final days, with the largest county—Clark County, where Las Vegas is—open that weekend. 

The state also offers voter registration and the ability to update a voter’s information online, but that option is tied to the state’s motor vehicle database, which means a person without a license has to print, fill out, sign and send in a paper application—or register in person. Also, for people registering to vote for the first time or who are updating their addresses, the motor vehicle agency website tells would-be voters not to drop off these forms there, because they might not get to election offic in time. So don’t even try the DMV.

Election Day Registration: New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin

After reading the variations and fine-print of registration in the other swing states, one wonders why more states do not offer Election Day registration—like these three states.

The answer lies in voter registration being a state’s right, where political traditions and partisan factors converge. Indeed, the GOP proponents of more restrictive voter ID in Wisconsin have been railing against Election Day registration. Fortunately they haven’t gotten very far. And that state’s Government Accountability Board, which oversees its elections and is composed of retired judges, recently decided to accept identifying information in electronic form from eligible voters—from cell phones, laptops and other portable devices—for the November election. That will make it easier for students and younger people to vote.  

Similarly, this week in New Hampshire, a lower court judge ruled that students attending colleges and universities in the state qualified as residents for voting this November, although the state Republican Party quickly appealed to a higher court.

Despite all these variations in state voter registration laws, the bottom line is that in the U.S., registering to vote is the starting line for participation in our political process. All the partisan shenanigans—from voter suppression laws to contesting ballots—can only be effective in low-turn out elections or contests where the margins are very close, because they chisel away votes in small increments.

So if you, or your family, or friends live in a 2012 swing state, don’t delay—register to vote sooner rather than later, and then take the steps to have the ID that’s needed to cast a ballot in November.

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).