A guide for first time voters

Q&A all about voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting in person


Photo by Julia Ehlers

A timeline of all of the most important dates for voter registration, early voting, absentee voting, and voting in person.

The election is creeping ever closer, only about a month and a half away now, and there’s a lot of people who have questions about how to vote. Voting is a crucial part of being an adult, and an active citizen of our country, and it’s important to know how to do so in the most effective way possible, regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall on. So without further ado, here are some frequently asked questions about voting and their answers.
Who can register to vote?
Anyone who will be 18 by Election Day on November 3 is eligible to register to vote, even if you are currently 17.
How do I register to vote?
There are three ways to register: in person, online, or through the mail. In person voter registration involves going to the Election Commissioner’s office (601 N 46th Street, Lincoln), where they will help you fill out the form to register. When registering, make sure to bring your driver’s license, or if you don’t have one, have your social security number handy. Online registration can be filled out at this link here. Or, a mail-in registration form can be found here for English speakers and here for Spanish speakers.
Where do I go to vote in person?
Every voter has a polling place assigned to them when they register to vote based on where they live. The Lancaster Election Commission will usually notify you of any changes to your polling place, but you can also look it up on this website here by entering your name and county.
Do I need to bring anything with me when I vote?
You aren’t required to bring anything with you to vote, including an ID of any sort, but a mask would probably be a good precaution to help protect other voters and poll workers. Don’t wear anything political like your MAGA hat or your Biden-Harris 2020 shirt to vote, as campaigning of any sort isn’t allowed within 200 feet of a polling site. However, according to East social studies teacher Michaela Schleicher, you can bring a piece of paper with information about the candidates you’re voting for.
“You can’t bring your cell phone into the voting booth, but you could bring a sheet of paper to kind of help you if there were a couple of people that you did some research on,” she said.
What happens when I get to my polling place?
In each polling place, there are a group of election workers that will give you your ballot and help you vote. You’ll be asked for your name, and they’ll check in their book of registered voters. You’ll sign your name next to your information, and then receive your ballot and a secrecy sleeve. You can then go to an open voting booth and fill in your selections for office there. You DO NOT have to fill in every single oval if you don’t know enough or don’t want to vote for all the offices on the ballot. Before leaving the voting booth, put your ballot in the secrecy sleeve, and return both to the poll workers at the front. They’ll put it in the ballot box, and you’re free to go!
What options do I have if I don’t want to vote in person?
Absentee voting is a good option for any who don’t feel comfortable voting in person during the pandemic. However, according to Lancaster Election Commissioner David Shively, anyone that decides to take advantage of absentee voting for this election should do it sooner rather than later.
“I can’t stress that enough,” Shively said. “Don’t wait till the last minute to request an early vote ballot because then there’s turn around on our end to get the ballot out to them [the voter] and there’s turn around for them [the voter] to get it back to us, so the earlier they can get their request to us the better for both the voter and for our office.”
How do I use an absentee ballot?
In order to get an absentee ballot, you first need to fill out a request form for one. These can be found here, and returned to the Election Commission by mail, by hand, or through fax or email. Once your request for an absentee ballot is received, the Election Commission will mail you a ballot, and you can fill it out and return it through mail or by dropping it off at the Election Commission by November 3.
What’s going to be on the ballot?
This website here has a number of sample ballots to help find out who and what will be on your ballot. Keep in mind that voters are only involved in the elections for districts and areas that they live in, so don’t spend time researching everyone, just make sure you know about your government officials.
Stayed tuned for more specifics about the election and how it’s been affected by the coronavirus.