The right to vote has long been considered one of America’s greatest rites of passage. Many of us remember the excitement of voting in our first presidential election after turning 18. But this isn’t your grandpa’s presidential election, and like just about everything else associated with this race, casting your ballot may not be as easy as it sounds.
In fact, presidential candidate Donald Trump can’t even count on his own two children Eric and Ivanka, to vote for him in the New York primary. Why? It seems that New York has a rule requiring voters voting Republican to declare their party affiliation by October 9, 2015, a full six months before the state primary. Oops. Who knew? Not the Trump offspring – and it’s probably pretty safe to assume that if this pair, whose father is running for president, was unaware of the rule, a lot of other potential voters will hit similar roadblocks.
The biggest obstacle cropping up in state primaries seems to be related to voter ID laws. Put in place at the state level, these laws require voters to produce an approved ID in order to vote. Republicans, who generally support the laws, explain that requiring voters to produce specific IDs at the polls will prevent voter fraud and cases of duplicate voting. But Democrats are crying foul, asserting that the real reason behind the law is to put up barriers that make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote. Among those affected by the laws are minorities, the poor and the elderly – many of whom tend to lean Democrat.
This barrier, known as voter disenfranchisement, has the country – and candidates – in an uproar. In this case, it refers to the act of depriving a citizen the right to vote. As of April 2016, there are 33 states that currently require voters to produce identification at the polls – with one more state implementing the policy in 2018.
These laws vary widely from state to state so it pays to check out the rules in advance. Strict laws generally require a government-issued ID, with all but two states requiring a photo ID. States with less strict conditions may accept non-government IDs (with or without photo). Photo IDs include student or employment IDs, military IDs, or a passport. Other acceptable forms of identification in states not requiring a photo might include a utility bill, bank statement, Social Security card or even a hunting license.
To make things even more complicated, most states charge for government-issued IDs, which can make it more difficult for some people to obtain them. Quite a few offer free cards to seniors over a certain age, but transportation to get them is often an issue. . Most ID cards are offered through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) even for those who don’t drive. Call or go to your state’s DMV website for more information about the fee and how to apply.
But the problem doesn’t stop with IDs. Like the Trump kids, some voters have run into unexpected complications when it comes to voting in the primaries. In the state primary elections (going on now), there are rules that voters need to know – often months in advance.
Open primaries are pretty voter-friendly. They permit voters to cast their ballot for a candidate of any party with the stipulation that they only vote once.
The biggest concern regarding open primaries is the possibility of crossover voting, resulting in people who are affiliated with one political party intentionally voting for a candidate from another. The reason is typically to skew the results in the primary to give that voter’s real candidate of choice a better chance to win in the general election.
To prevent that from happening, some states have closed primaries. This means that only voters who are registered with a specific political party can vote for a candidate of that party. Some states require the voter to be pre-registered with a party while others allow a voter to declare their affiliation at the polling place. And a few actually let voters change their preference right there on Election Day.
And then there are semi-closed primaries. Each party can choose whether they want to allow the general public to vote. In most states, if you aren’t registered with a specific party, you’ll need to register for a party before voting. Again, state rules vary – some require that you register well before the election and other let you select your party in the voting booth. Advocates for semi-closed primaries appreciate that it gives independents a chance to support any candidate. Those on the other side feel that allowing non-party supporters to vote in the primary will give undue influence to voters that may not choose a candidate that fits the traditional party mold.
Donald Trump’s huge success is likely a result of open or semi-closed primary voting. Although he’s running on a Republican ticket, he appeals to many independent voters – especially those that eschew the political mainstream. Indeed, Trump has built his platform on being the “anti-politician.”
First-time voters and those who have moved to a new city or state may have additional requirements regarding voting. So be sure to check out your state’s rules and regulations. And if it’s too late for your primary, get ready now for the general election in November.
American citizens 18 and older have the right to vote – and it is exciting to be part of that process. So check out the rules and regulations that might stand in your way – so you can clear the path well in advance and make your voice heard.