Voting 101: What you need to know before you vote

By Caitlin Constantine, Senior web editor
Last Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012, 4:57 PM EDT
More Info

With less than two months to go until the general election in November, voters are gearing up to head to the polls to cast their ballots.

But with recent changes to the voting laws, many voters may find themselves unsure of what they need to make their voice heard in the upcoming election. What do you need to register? How do you know if you are registered? What do you need to bring with you to your polling location?

That’s why we’ve put together a Voting 101 resource guide to help you make sure your vote counts.

Are you registered to vote?

You can find out if you have already registered to vote by going to the Florida Division of Elections site and entering your first and last names and your birth date. The site will bring up your voter information as it is listed on your voter record.

Make sure the information is correct. If not, you’ll need to update that information with your county’s Supervisor of Elections.

The site will also display links to show you the status of your absentee ballot if you have requested one and the location of the polling place for your precinct.

How to register

If you have not yet registered to vote, you have until Oct. 9, 2012 to do so.

You must meet the following standards before you can register to vote:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You have to be at least 18 years old.
  • You cannot have a current court judgment of mental incapacity with regards to voting, either in Florida or in another state.
  • You cannot be a convicted felon. However, even if you are, it is possible to have your voting rights restored. NOTE: To determine if your rights have been restored, contact the Office of Executive Clemency at 800-435-8286.
  • You can only be registered in your current county of residence in the state of Florida.

If you meet all of these requirements, you can register at the following locations:

You can pick up an application at any of these locations or mail it to your Supervisor of Elections office.

You can also fill out a voter registration form online, print it out and mail it to your Supervisor of Elections office.

Preparing to vote

Before you head to the polls, make sure the information on record for you is up to date. You can no longer change this information at the polling place. It must be updated ahead of time.

This includes your name, your address and your signature, as your signature will be checked against one on file when you vote.

If your address has changed, you can update it using the online form for your respective county:

If your signature has changed (as with a name change), then you must fill out a new voter registration application and send it back to the Supervisor of Elections.

You will also need to ensure that you have the correct identification before you head to the polls to vote. Florida law requires that voters have a valid and current ID that displays a photo and a signature.

The following forms of identification are considered valid:

  • Florida driver license or ID card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (if you do not have one of these, go to GatherGoGet.com to begin the process of applying for a Florida ID card)
  • United States Passport
  • A debit or credit card
  • A military ID
  • A student ID
  • A retirement center ID
  • A neighborhood association ID
  • A public assistance ID

If you do not have valid ID, you can still cast a provisional ballot. The ballot will then be evaluated by the Canvassing Board, which will determine whether the ballot will be considered eligible.

Voting

There are three main ways to vote in the state of Florida:

  • Voting by mail
  • Early voting in the days leading up to Election Day
  • Voting at your precinct on Election Day

Voting by mail

Any registered voter can vote by mail. Florida law requires ballots that are cast by mail to be counted in the official final election results.

You can request a mail ballot from your county’s Supervisor of Elections. The elections office will then send you a ballot along with a secrecy sleeve and instructions for casting the ballot.

You can request a mail ballot by either calling your Supervisor of Elections office or by filling out the form for your respective county:

When you submit your mail ballot, make sure you do the following:

  • Use a black ink pen to fill in the oval next to your selection on the ballot. Do not fill it with an X or a check mark.
  • Insert the ballot into the secrecy sleeve, then into the envelope. Seal the envelope, then sign and date the back of the return envelope in the space indicated.
  • Mail the ballot ahead of time so it arrives at the elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
  • If you do not think you’ll make it on time, you can deliver it by hand to an elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day or drop it off at any early voting site.

NOTE: If you request a mail ballot, then decide to vote at your polling place on Election Day, bring your mail ballot with you so a poll worker can cancel your mail ballot.

Early Voting

Early voting begins on Oct. 27 and ends on Nov. 3. Early voting is not allowed on the Sunday or Monday before Election Day. Early voting locations are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bring your valid photo and signature ID with you when you vote.

Voting on Election Day

You must vote in the precinct in which you live. If you don’t know your polling place, you can look it up by clicking the link for your county, then putting your address into the form.

NOTE: Your precinct and polling place may have changed due to this year's redistricting, so make sure you have the correct information. When you received your new voting card, the location would have been indicated there as well.

Make sure you have your valid photo and signature ID. You’ll be asked to sign the register above your name, and then you will receive your paper ballot.

If you have any questions or need another ballot, don’t hesitate to ask your poll worker.

You may want to fill out a sample ballot and bring it with you to save time in the voting booth, especially as this election has eleven constitutional amendments on the ballot.  The Supervisors of Elections will mail sample ballots on Oct. 12 to all registered voters who have not requested to vote by mail.

Polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you are standing in line at 7 p.m., you will be allowed to vote.

If you have any other questions regarding voting, contact your local Supervisor of Elections: