What are local, state, and federal elections?
There are three different levels of elected office: local offices, state offices, and federal offices. Sometimes, an election will include candidates for just one level of elected office. Other times, you will vote for candidates at more than one level of office.
In local elections, you are voting for candidates for local government. You might vote for members of your city council or the mayor of your town or city. Local elections are sometimes called municipal elections.
In state elections, you are voting for candidates for state government: governor, state representative, state senators, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
Federal elections happen in even-numbered years in November. During a federal election, you vote for your Representative for the House of Representatives. You might vote for one or both of your Senators, President, and Vice President. Members of the House of Representatives are up for election every two years. Senators are elected to six-year terms. Only one third of Senators are up for election in a federal election. Presidential elections happen every four years, or every other federal election.
What is a Primary Election?
Sometimes, there are too many candidates for one election. For example, only 1 person from each political party can run for President. But lots of people want to be President, so each party votes on who their candidate will be. This is called the primary election. It happens before the general election. (Source: Autistic Self-Advocacy Network)
What is a General Election?
One of the two main types of elections. In a general election, you will vote for who will become your elected officials. (Source: Autistic Self-Advocacy Network)
What is a Special Election?
Sometimes, an elected official gets sick, breaks the law, or leaves office. They may have to stop being an elected official, so people need to vote for a new elected official. This new vote has to happen right away, even if it is not election time. This is called a special election. (Cite ASAN)
What is a ballot measure?
Sometimes, your ballot will have a ballot measure. A ballot measure is a law, issue, or question that you can vote on. Voters get to decide if they agree or disagree with the ballot measure by voting yes to agree or no to disagree. If the majority of voters votes yes on a ballot measure, it will become part of the state’s law. If they vote no, it will not be added to the state’s law.
In different states, a ballot measure might be called a ballot initiative, ballot referendum, or proposition.
Here is an example of a ballot measure that passed in California a few years ago. The ballot measure example is not in plain language. This example comes from a real ballot. Below the example we will explain it using plain language.
Example: “Proposition 17: Restores right to vote after completion of prison term. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.”
What does this mean? In this example, this ballot measure is asking whether voters want to change the state laws.
When someone goes to jail or prison for a crime, they serve a sentence. A sentence is the amount of a time a court says you have to be in jail or prison. Sometimes, a sentence will have both time in jail or prison and time on parole.
Parole is when you get to live in the community, but you have to follow special rules. Someone on parole might not be allowed to leave their town, and they will have to meet with a special police officer called a parole officer. In many states, people who are on parole are not allowed to vote.
This ballot measure is asking voters to decide if someone who is on parole is allowed to vote.
Voting yes means: you think that people who are on parole should be allowed to vote.
Voting no means: you think that people who are on parole should not be allowed to vote.
How can I make sure I understand ballot measures in my state?
Ballot measures can be very confusing to read and understand. Before you go to vote, you can look up a sample ballot on Ballotpedia. You can click on the ballot measures to see what a “yes” or “no” vote means. Some states have guides for voters to read about ballot measures and understand what they are saying. You can ask your local election office for help understanding anything on your ballot.
What is voter identification (ID)?
Many states require you to bring voter identification (ID) with you when you vote. The poll workers will use this voter ID to check your voter registration and make sure you are eligible to vote. Each state has different rules for voter ID. Some states require you to bring a photo ID such as a driver’s license or non-driver’s state ID card. Some states do not require an ID with a photo. Some states do not require voter ID at all, and just require voter registration. It is important for you to look at your state’s rules for voter ID before you go to vote and take the correct ID.
What is a provisional ballot?
Sometimes, when you go to vote, there might be a problem with your voter registration. Poll workers may not know if you are allowed to vote. For example, you may not bring the right type of voter ID, or you moved to a different place and did not update your address on your voter registration.
When this happens, you may be allowed to vote with a provisional ballot. This ballot looks identical to a regular ballot and you fill it out the same way. Then, you will give the ballot to the poll workers. The provisional ballot will not be cast with other ballots.
After the election, the local board of election will decide if you are eligible to vote. The poll workers might also give you instructions on what you can do to make sure your ballot is counted. For example, if you did not bring the correct voter ID to the polls, you can take the correct voter ID to the election office so they can verify your voter registration and cast your ballot. (Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)
What is a labor union?
Some workplaces have a labor union. A labor union is a group of workers at a business who join together to advocate for better conditions at work. Together, they can advocate for their boss to do things like raising their pay, giving them better work hours, and making their workplace safer. The members of a union vote to elect leaders of the union, who are called union representatives or union agents. The union representatives or union agents take the lead in advocating for the changes that the union members want. Your union representative or union agent is not allowed to help you vote.
What is an affidavit or oath?
An affidavit or an oath is a written statement. When you sign an affidavit or an oath, you are promising that you are telling the truth.
What is Early Voting?
In some states, voters can go to the local election office or a polling place before Election Day to vote in person. This is called Early Voting.
What is In-Person Absentee Voting?
Some states have a type of Early Voting called “in-person absentee voting.” In some states, only voters who have a disability or voters who are going to be out of town on Election Day are allowed to do in-person absentee voting. Check your state guide to see if you are allowed to vote during this period.
What is an absentee ballot?
An absentee ballot is a paper form that has people and/or issues that you vote for on Election Day. You use this to vote by mail in states with absentee voting. In states with in-person absentee voting, you vote on an absentee ballot in person before Election Day at a polling place or local election office.
What is a notary?
A notary is someone that is appointed by a state government to witness signatures on important documents. When a notary witnesses a signature, they watch the person sign the document. Then, they verify that the person signing the document is telling the truth. This is called “notarizing.” You can find a notary by asking your library, post office, or bank if they have a notary.
What is a postmark?
When you mail your absentee ballot or another piece of mail to the post office, the post office will apply a postmark. This is a stamp on the envelope that lists the day that the post office received your mail. In some states, election officials require your absentee ballot to be received by the post office and postmarked by a certain date.