Election 2020, Voting, and More for Teens

By NYPL Staff
October 2, 2020

This resource guide was compiled and written by Genee Bright, Adult Librarian at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, and Emma Eriksson, Young Adult Librarian at the Hunt's Point Library.

Election Day is November 3, 2020, and it’s time to make sure your voice is heard! Voting in federal, state, and local elections is an important act. You’re participating in our democracy, making sure your needs and issues are being represented, and impacting your community’s future. You’re never too young to get involved and do your part—check out ways below you can get #VoteReady this fall.

Plus, discover the Library's 2020 Election Reading List—for adults, kids, and teens—more NYPL voting resources, and election-themed events

You’ll be 18 or older on November 3. What should you do?

Register to Vote

In New York, there are a few different ways you can register to vote

  • Online, if you have an ID from New York State
  • By mailing in a voter registration form 
  • In person at a Board of Elections office

All 50 NYPL grab-and-go locations have voter registration forms available for patrons that you can mail in. The deadline to register to vote in New York, by all methods, is October 9. 

If you don’t know if you’re registered or not, you can use the NYC Registered Voter Search or the Rock The Vote "Am I Registered to Vote?" site to check your status in any state.

Review Your Ballot & Research the Candidates

Each ballot will be unique to your district and party. You can use NYC’s Understanding the Ballot site to view your ballot before election day. Take the time to research all the candidates. Many non-partisan (meaning they don't endorse any political party) groups put out voter guides to help voters learn more about the candidates running. In NYC, the New York City Campaign Finance Board sends a Voter Guide to every registered voter—and you can opt to go paperless and have a copy sent to your email's inbox.

Understand Your Voting Rights 

Voting in an election is a right granted to you by the United States Constitution. Learn more about it with these resources:

Choose How You’re Going to Vote

This election cycle, there are a few different ways New Yorkers can choose to cast their vote, including in person on election day, at an early voting polling site, or by mail-in or absentee ballot. Choose the way that’s right for you.

In Person on Election Day

Find Your Polling Site 

Put a reminder in your calendar that November 3 is the day to vote or sign up for Voting Reminders! If you are scheduled to work on November 3, and you do not have four consecutive hours off of work from the time the polls open or close, your manager or boss is legally required to give you two hours of paid time off to go and vote. You need to give your manager or boss at least two days' notice if you need to take this time to vote.

Bring your ID

If you're a first-time voter who registered by mail and didn't provide a copy of your I.D. with your registration, you may need to show I.D. to vote. Acceptable forms include a current and valid photo I.D.; or a copy of a recent utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government documents that show your name and address. If you are unable to provide I.D., you can still vote with an affidavit ballot. If you've voted in New York before, you don't need to provide I.D. to vote, but it doesn't hurt to have it just in case.

Here are some other in-person voting tips:

  • If the polls close while you're still waiting in line, stay in line—you have the right to vote.
  • If you make a mistake filling out your ballot, you can ask for a new one.
  • If the machines are down at your polling place, ask for a paper ballot.
  • If you run into any problems or have questions on Election Day, call the Election Protection Hotline:
    • English: 1-866-OUR-VOTE / 1-866-687-8683
    • Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA / 1-888-839-8682
    • Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US / 1-844-925-5287
    • Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese: 1-888-274-8683

In Person Early Voting

New York voters can also vote before Election Day. The early voting period runs from Saturday, October 24, 2020, to Sunday, November 1, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live. Your early voting poll site is NOT your normal polling site. Use the ''Understanding the Ballot'' portal to find your Early Polling site.

Absentee or Mail-In Voting

All New York voters can vote this fall by mail due to the risk of contracting coronavirus. Absentee voting is allowed for every election, but you have to request an absentee ballot for every election you can't make in person. If you have concerns about or are at risk of contracting COVID-19, you can request an absentee ballot and select "Temporary Illness" as your reason for needing an absentee ballot. You must postmark, apply online, email, or fax a completed application for the general absentee ballot by October 27, 2020. You may apply in-person by November 2, 2020.  Ballots will be mailed beginning on/after September 18, 2020. Go here if you need an  Absentee Ballot in other languages or an ADA Accessible Ballot. Did you already request an Absentee Ballot? Then check the status of your Absentee Ballot Application and Track your Ballot.

Once you receive your ballot, remove it from the envelopes and mark it according to your choices for each office. You are allowed to look up each candidate while casting your ballot (this isn't an exam!). Make sure to check both sides of the ballot for candidates or referendums to vote on. 

After you have finished marking your ballot, fold it up and place it in the Security Envelope, sign it, and date it. Try to make your signature as close to the one on your driver's license or voter application as possible—this is the one the vote counter will compare your signature to. Seal the security envelope and place it in the Return Envelope, then seal that too.

Return your absentee ballot by putting it in the mail and ensuring it receives a postmark no later than November 3. The United States Postal Service recommends that voters allow enough time for ballots to be returned to the Board of Elections, which is generally at least seven days ahead of the general elections (October 26).

You can also bring it to the County Board of Elections Office no later than November 3, bring it to an early voting poll site between October 24 and November 1, or bring it to a poll site on November 3.

An Important Note About Incorrect Absentee Ballots: Some residents of New York City who requested absentee ballots received a ballot envelope with the wrong name on it. If you received a mislabeled ballot, do not return it. The Board of Elections is sending out replacement packets and instructions. Fill out the correct ballot and mail it in. Destroy the mislabeled ballot. You can also still choose to vote in person on election day or during early voting.

I'm 17 and under, what can I do?

Although the federal voting age is 18, there’s still a lot you can do to get involved with the election this fall. Whether it’s educating yourself about the issues and candidates in this election, reminding your friends and family to exercise their right, or helping get out the vote in your community, you can still make a difference.

Check if Your State Allows Pre-Registration

Some states permit future voters to pre-register so they are eligible to cast a ballot when they reach 18. New York allows pre-registration starting at 16 years old. For the different states’ rules, check out the National Conference of State Legislature’s Preregistration for Young Voters. A third of the states allow people who are 17 but will be 18 by the general election to vote in primaries.

Become An Informed Citizen 

The first step to taking action is knowing the facts, so talk to the people around you about what's going on, what politics matters to you, and learn about the candidates running for office in your local, state, and federal elections. Use Common Sense Media's Young Voter's Guide to Social Media to learn about state and location elections, how to find credible information about the election, and ways to make a difference—even if you can't vote!

Encourage Your Friends/Family to Vote  

There are many voting-aged folks out there who "just don't have time for politics" or who may just be overwhelmed by all the information out there. That's where you come in! Once you do your research, you can share that knowledge with voting-age friends and family. Talk about it over dinner, share verified information on your social media, call up family members and ask if they're voting this year (and how they're doing, of course!).

Use Your Skills 

You may not think it, but as a teenager, you have many skills at your fingertips to help others vote. Consider that many people don't vote because most of the information available isn't in their native language. If you're able, walk people through websites or offer to make calls on their behalf to make sure they get their voter registration and ballots in their native language. Put that tech savvy to use and show friends and family how easy it is to register to vote online or apply for an absentee ballot. Have a license and access to a car? Offer to drive people to their polling places (taking COVID-19 precautions, of course!).

Volunteer to Register People to Vote 

Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and gather experience while supporting a cause you chose to help. There are many organizations you can join, like Headcount or NYC Votes, which organize events (currently all virtual) to get people registered to vote. You can also organize a group of your friends to help people find out if they are registered to vote using your smartphone and the Voter Look-Up tool, or send out email blasts reminding people to vote! And check out the Youth Vote NYC to see how you can set up a Student Registration Voter Drive at your school.