The midterm elections are only a few weeks off, and if ever there’s a time to participate in the electoral process, it’s now. But as of November 2016, only 70 percent of U.S. citizens over age 18 were registered to vote, which means that more than 65 million people who are eligible to register have not done so.
Some people don’t register simply because they don’t want to vote. But many others (and maybe you’re among them) believe that they can’t or shouldn’t get registered because they’re not allowed, or because their registration could come at a personal cost.
Are you actually ineligible to vote? Is it true that you can protect yourself by not registering? Let’s examine some common beliefs about the registration process and find out.
“I can’t register to vote because I don’t have an ID for the state where I currently live.”
When you fill out a voter registration form, you can use your in-state ID OR the last four digits of your social security number. I’ll be honest with you: I moved to a new state six months ago and still haven’t bothered to get a new driver’s license. But I registered to vote here just as soon as I had an address.
The only difference it makes if you don’t have an in-state ID is that you may need to bring a federally-issued ID with you to the polls in order to cast your vote. HeadCount provides a list of exactly which forms of ID are acceptable at the polls in each state (and we’ve got a list that includes requirements for every state here). But for registration, simply your SSN is good enough.
Bottom line: You do not need a current state-issued ID to register to vote.
“If I don’t register to vote, I won’t have to serve jury duty.”
In most states, voter registration is one of many lists used to call jurors. In Texas or New York, for example, you can be summoned for jury duty if your name appears on a voter registration list, or if you have a state ID; have filed for income tax or unemployment; etc. In these states, being registered to vote makes you no more likely to get called for jury duty than simply having a driver’s license.
States like California, Maine, and Florida, on the other hand, leave voter registration lists out of the jury summons process entirely; they use other lists (like drivers licenses and utility company lists) to find jurors.
This claim is not completely baseless, however. It’s true that there are some counties in a handful of states that exclusively use voter registration lists to summon jurors. As far as I can tell, they are Louisiana, Alabama, South Dakota, and Tennessee’s Eastern District and Western District (but weirdly NOT Tennessee’s Middle District). If avoiding jury duty at all costs is your ultimate goal, you can look at your own district court’s website to find out exactly how they get you. (And if you want to go down a deep rabbit hole of reading the minutiae of your state’s statutes on juror selection, have at it.)
Bottom line: In the majority of states, registering to vote makes you no more likely to get called for jury duty than having a state ID or paying state taxes.
“If I don’t register to vote, I can’t be drafted into the military.”
This claim is entirely false. Virtually all men must register with Selective Service once they turn 18, or before they turn 26—even if you are an undocumented immigrant, even if you are a citizen living outside of the country, even if you are an amputee. So you definitely don’t get an exception just because you’re not registered to vote.
Bottom line: Voter registration has nothing to do with the draft.
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“If I register to vote at my new address, then I’ll have to update my car insurance.”
Let’s say that you grow up in rural West Virginia, buy and insure a car there, and then go to college in downtown Chicago. If you update your voter registration to your Chicago address, will your car insurance company KNOW that you don’t live in West Virginia anymore and raise your rates accordingly? Will you be required to match your insurance address to your voter registration district?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Car insurance should not be affected by your voter registration or your legal residency more generally. Your car insurance rate is determined by where your car is located and where you drive it. If you are a student who brings your car with you to school, your insurance company may change your rate because you are driving in a different environment, but voter registration is irrelevant to this determination.” Read More>>>