The 2020 general election is a few months away

By Sean Neumann
June 24, 2020 06:45 PM
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Everyone's talking about the 2020 general election — Michelle Obama, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift — and they think you should be, too.

"Voting is bigger than any one party, one issue, one candidate or one election,” the former first lady, 56, said earlier this year, which is why she and waves of other celebrities and politicians are pushing for everyone who is eligible in the U.S. to register in time to vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Even Snoop Dogg said he would cast a ballot for the first time in November, when voters will decide if they want four more years of President Donald Trump or if they prefer his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Individual states have different requirements for how to register in order to vote. From Vote.gov, you search for your state and then follow the links to information about that specific registration process.

Currently, 39 states and Washington, D.C., allow online voter registration — which means you can quickly fill out your state's form online.

"This will take 2 minutes," the Vote.gov website states.

Below are some additional tips, especially for those looking to vote in the 11 states that don't allow for online registration.

Questions about how the novel coronavirus pandemic could impact the 2020 election? Read PEOPLE's story on that here.

Voters fill out their ballots during Georgia's primary on June 9.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

Know your state's registration deadline

You'll need to register before your state's deadline. You can check your state's registration deadlines via the U.S. Vote Foundation.

Scroll through the list of states until you find the state you're planning to vote in, select it and find that state's deadline.

In New York, for example, the state's deadline is Oct. 9. But in California, the deadline is Oct. 20.

But people shouldn't wait until the last minute to register, says Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor to the elections program at the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voice foundation, which focuses on adjusting the U.S. electoral system to face new challenges.

"Don't wait for the deadline to register or check," Patrick tells PEOPLE. "That is the busiest time and doesn't allow time to remedy if there's an omission or problem. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

You can probably register online (but make sure)

At the moment, 39 states (plus D.C.) allow voters to register online ahead of time. Doing so only takes a few minutes.

However, some states — including some of the most populous, like New Jersey and Texas — require voters to either mail in their registration application or physically bring it to a local election official's office.

Check to see if you can register to vote online in your state by checking the list of states here, via the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Can't register online? Follow your state's application process

If you live in one of the 11 states which don't offer online voter registration — Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming — then you'll need to follow your individual state's application process.

Here are some quick links you can go to in order to find out how to fill out (and mail in) your registration application there.

Arkansas: Request a voter registration application here or print one out yourself here. Fill out the application and send it back in by Oct. 6.

Maine: Get a voter registration card "at your town office or city hall, through any Motor Vehicle branch office, in most state & federal social service agencies, or at voter registration drives," according to the state. Or you can print out your voter registration card here. Return your voter registration card by the state's Oct. 19 deadline. (Maine does allow same-day voter registration as well.)

Mississippi: Fill out a voter registration application here and mail it in to your county circuit clerk's office by Oct. 5.

Montana: Fill out a voter registration application here and then mail it to your election administrator's office, listed at the bottom of the application. Montana's voter registration deadline is Oct. 5. (Montana also allows same-day registration.)

New Hampshire: Register in person at your local city or town clerk's office, which you can look up here, by Oct. 27. (New Hampshire does allow same-day registration at local polling places.)

New Jersey: Fill out a voter registration application here. Mail or deliver the application to your specific county's election official, which you can locate here. New Jersey's voter registration deadline is Oct. 13.

North Dakota: North Dakota is the only state that does not require voter registration. Bring a form of identification to your polling place on election day — Nov. 3 — in order to vote.

Oklahoma: Fill out a voter registration application here. Mail it to the Oklahoma State Election Board (the address is on the bottom of the application) by Oct. 9.

South Dakota: Fill out a voter registration application here. Print it out and bring the form to your local county auditor's office by the state's Oct. 19 deadline.

Texas: Fill out a voter registration application here. Print it out and mail, or bring, the application to your local county election official by the state's Oct. 5 deadline.

Wyoming: Fill out a voter registration application here and follow the instructions at the top of the form to your local county clerk's office by the state's Oct. 19 deadline. (Wyoming does allow same-day registration as well.)

Follow up on your voter registration status

Experts remind voters each election cycle: Make sure to follow up on the status of your registration application.

"If uncertain about the status of your voter registration, you can verify the information by contacting your local election office or by going online in most states," Patrick tells PEOPLE.

"Many jurisdictions will mail out a voter ID card upon the successful completion of an application," Patrick says. "Be sure to verify that all the information is correct — that will be what is used at the polls or to mail you a ballot."

Patrick says many election offices "send out items such as polling place notification cards, sample ballots, voter guides, vote by mail ballot applications" as well.

"If you get these items in your name (and not to 'Household'), you should be all set," she says. "If you don’t receive items like this, don’t worry. It is possible that isn’t done in your state, but it is [important] to verify your registration to be certain."

Lastly, Patrick says to be consistent with your signature.

"The name and signature you use should be what is on your identification," she adds. "Voter registration is not a time to introduce a new nickname or autograph style."