Make Your Voice (and Vote) Count: How to Register and Vote by Mail

Wolf Plaza

In case you missed it, there’s an election on Nov. 3, and it’s bound to be one of the messiest and most anticipated races of all time. No matter what side you fall on the political spectrum, you know that the 2020 election marks a pivotal moment in our nation’s history; it is the decision between competing visions for America. It is the decision between our current nation and a brand new one. No matter your views — your creeds, your politics, your beliefs — you know that this race is important.

But maybe you feel like one vote won’t make a difference. Maybe you feel like the popular vote is worthless due to the effects of the Electoral College. But I’m here to tell you that your notions of political inefficacy, while completely valid, are simply false. Your vote will make a difference; in fact, your presence in the American political world already has. Let me tell you why.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 15 to 24-year olds make up about 12% of the total United States population — just slightly larger than the percentage of those aged 55 to 64 years. However, as the Elect Project Organization has shown, only about 43% of 18 to 24-year olds turned out for the 2016 presidential election, while about 66% of those aged 44 to 59 and more than 70% of those 60 years and older voted. This means that, although young people make up just about the same percentage of the total United States population as the older generation, their votes don’t contribute as significantly as those of older citizens. This isn’t about a lack of influence; it’s about a lack of action. If all young people registered to vote and turned out at polling stations during election seasons — both local and national ones — then we would be able to choose the representatives that we want. We would not have to be bystanders to democracy. We would not have to settle.

This summer, I interned with the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG), a nonpartisan organization that focuses on a multitude of issues that affect our nation. Specifically, I’ve been working with an issue that plagues young people like me: voting. Having our voices heard. Being in control of who runs our nation. Through small educational activities and large voter registration events, NCPIRG has given me the skills that I need in order to tell you all how to register to vote, how to update your registration, and how to vote by mail if you’re an out-of-stater like myself.

North Carolina has recently been added to the list of states that allow citizens to register to vote online which, during a global crisis like COVID-19, is so convenient and so accessible. If you’re a student and still need to register to vote, visit, and the instructions are clear from there. If you aren’t from North Carolina, though, the website will direct you to your state’s Student Vote web page. Additionally, you can use these tools to update your voter registration if your circumstances have changed. The entire process is so easy, and it takes very little time.

NC absentee ballot request form

If you will be voting via absentee ballot this year, I also have some insight into how to vote that way. If you Google the phrase “absentee ballot, [your state],” you’ll be able to log onto a variety of websites and request an absentee ballot. When the ballot arrives at your desired location, all you have to do is fill out the ballot in the presence of at least one witness — a roommate, teacher, friend, or family member, so long as they’re over 18. Once you finish filling out the ballot, you put it back in the envelope that it came in, and then you and your witness will sign where indicated. All you have to do then is send it to your County Board of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day (this year, that’s Tuesday, Nov. 3).

No matter your method of voting, though, you should know and also celebrate the fact that your vote counts. Your vote matters. Your vote makes a difference. And your vote could even be the one that shifts the direction of your state’s electoral representatives. We are the next generation of American citizens, constituents, and leaders. And we have the potential to invoke the change that our nation needs. 

Our voices are bound to be heard because we are the most connected generation that this nation has ever seen. We amplify our causes. We shout our beliefs from the rooftops. And we demand justice. We aren’t ashamed to believe that we can make a difference in the chaotic mess that is our ever-changing world; we aren’t ashamed because we know our worth. We know our value. We know our potential, and we know that we won’t stop fighting until we’ve achieved what we want and, frankly, what our nation needs.

So, go out and vote. Don’t let anyone convince you to be silent. Use the power of your vote to enhance the power of your voice. Together, they really can make a difference.