Voter registration graphic

Credit: University of California

Register online by October 19

If you are a U.S. citizen and will be at least 18 years old by Election Day, you can vote in the November 3 presidential election.
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You’ve set up your work station, signed up for classes and have even begun connecting with some of your new classmates.

But as you gear up for the 2020 school year, don’t forget a critical item on the back-to-school checklist: making sure you’re registered to vote.

As the nation approaches an unprecedented election on November 3, California youth could have a big impact on the outcome.

“I have never, ever seen so many diverse students from every different background speak out on what’s important to them,” said UC Davis undergraduate Alexandra Olvera, majoring in political science and Chicanx Studies. “We are seeing how politics touches every aspect of our lives.”

And with young adults now outnumbering older voters as a share of the electorate, they can influence not only who wins, but what’s on the political agenda, from racial justice and climate change to the nation’s response to the pandemic.

Exercising your power starts with getting registered to vote and making sure that your voter registration address is up to date.

It only takes five minutes — yet that short amount of time can shape the future of the country and the world you live in.

“The biggest way your voice can be heard is voting,” Olvera said. “I know it can seem like there are a lot of steps, but if you don’t care about voting, other people do — and they’re going to be choosing who makes the decisions that affect your life on a daily basis.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute

New voters tend to wait until the last minute to get things done. In this pandemic-era election, however, state officials and voting rights groups are urging voters to plan ahead. That extends to registering to vote.

The deadline for registering online in California is October 19. But by registering sooner, you’ll have more flexibility about when and how you vote.

The state is automatically sending every voter registered by October 19 an optional vote-by-mail ballot. Voters can fill out and return the ballot as soon as they receive it, right up until Election Day. Or they can choose to cast their vote at the polls.

The earlier you register, the sooner your ballot will get to you and the more time you’ll have to return it, said Karen Hedges, UCLA deputy director of student life, who leads campus efforts to increase student voting and access to the polls.

“Mail-in ballots are starting to be mailed out Oct. 5. You want to be one of the ones going out in that first batch if you can,” said Hedges. “Registering early ensures ease of voting. If you wait until the last minute, it gets a little more complicated.”

  • New voter? Decide where you want to register

If you are living away from home while at school, you can choose to register at either your school or home address. Just make sure that it’s an address where you can receive important election mail — including your ballot.

If you plan to vote in person, you’ll be assigned a polling place near where you’re registered, so make sure it’s somewhere you can get to on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Another fact that’s good to know: Where you register won’t affect your financial aid or residency for tuition purposes.

  • Registered or voted before? Check that your address is current.
Young woman holding a vote sign
Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

The last few elections have seen record levels of participation on UC campuses. But with many students having moved home because of the pandemic, it’s important that they re-register with their current address.

With election mail piling up in empty dorms, officials worry that outdated addresses could impact students’ ability to vote.

“Students are a transient population in the best of circumstances — and even more so during the pandemic,” Hedges said. “We are urging every single student who has ever registered or voted before to check their registration and make sure it reflects where they now reside.”

The good news: updating your information is easy. Simply re-register with your current address so your mail-in ballot gets to you and your polling place reflects where you live.

Not sure if or where you’re registered? Check it here.

  • Make a plan for how you’ll cast your ballot

Do you plan to vote by mail or in person? Will you vote early or on Election Day? With all the variables of a pandemic election, planning in advance for how and when you’ll vote will help you avoid any surprises and ensure that your voice is heard.

Keep your vote plan in mind when filling out your registration. If you plan to vote by mail and don’t live in California, or are registering close to the October 19 online registration deadline and want to be sure you receive a mail-in ballot, chose the option to vote by mail when filling out your registration.

Check your state’s rules for vote by mail.

  • Help get others registered

Students with clipboards may no longer be roving the campus, registering new voters, but the pandemic hasn’t tamped down their efforts and enthusiasm to ready classmates and others to vote.

Volunteers who used to roam dorm halls and quads are now dropping into online classes and storming social media with creative and spirited ways to engage their peers in registering and gearing up for the November 3 election.

And with sports contests tabled, registration drives have sparked friendly competitions among sports teams, Greek organizations, student clubs and even individual campuses through efforts like California’s Ballot Bowl.

You can get involved, too, by contacting your local student government organization or office of student life.

Another way to participate: help friends and family to register.

“I feel like voting is a secret formula I have to tell everyone about,” said Olvera. “Young people are understanding how important it is to speak up for what we believe in, and that power lies in voting.”