A Guide for New Citizens & First-Time Voters: How, When, and Where to Vote

By Alfredo Gutierrez, Coordinator, Outreach Services
October 5, 2020
photo of a voting registration table

Congratulations! If you are reading this, you are interested in voting in the upcoming 2020 election. 

Participating in elections is one of the most important actions you can take as a U.S. citizen, and it’s important that you do so in an informed way. This election is important for many different reasons and it's important that anyone who can vote does so. 

This year, one in ten people eligible to vote in the U.S. presidential election is an immigrant. If you're a newly naturalized American citizen, you're one of them! Most (61%) of these 23 million naturalized citizens live in just five states—including, New York State which includes 2.5 million people. (Source)

Whether you are a new citizen or are just participating in your first election, these resources below will allow you to learn and inform yourself about how to vote, when to vote, and where to find information on the candidates. Let’s begin!

How, When, and Where to Vote

Note that the information listed here is specific to New York State.

First, you have to register to vote if you haven’t already. The deadline to register is October 9th, 2020. You can visit this website to check your voter registration status, or you can go directly to the New York State website.

You have three ways to vote this year:

  1. Mail-in or Absentee Voting (request by Oct 27; return by Nov 3)

  2. Early Voting (Saturday, Oct 24 — Sunday, Nov 1)

  3. Voting on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov 3)

Mail-in or Absentee Voting

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting  by mail is a safe option. Absentee voting (also called “mail-in voting”) is a vote cast by a person who, because of absence from their usual voting district, illness, or the like, has been permitted to vote by mail. Due to the pandemic, anyone in New York State who wants to vote by mail can do so, but you must apply either online, or postmark, email or fax a completed application or letter request for the General Election Absentee ballot no later than seven days (October 27, 2020) before the election. You may apply in-person at your local County Board of Elections up to the day before the election (November 2, 2020).

Ways to submit your absentee ballot are:

  • Bring it to an early voting poll site between October 24 and November 1

  • Put it in the mail ensuring it receives a postmark no later than November 3

  • Bring it to the County Board of Elections Office no later than November 3 by 9 PM

  • Bring it to a poll site on November 3 by 9 PM

You can find more information about absentee/mail-in voting here.

Early Voting

New York is one of the states that allows its residents to vote early, which might be convenient if you are trying to avoid lines or having to wait. There are nine days of early voting prior to Election Day. Early voting starts on October 24, and runs until November 1, 2020.  It is important to note that in New York City everyone has one early voting site, just like the day of the election—but it might not be the same as your election-day polling site. To find your early voting poll site, please visit this website. Early voting poll sites have varying hours they are open, so it is important to check the hours your site will be open for before you go.  

Voting on Election Day

If you are going to vote in person on election day, the process is the same as early voting. Click here to see step-by-step what to expect at the polls. Once you are registered to vote, visit the NYS Board of Elections website to find out where your polling site is. You can also find information on your Electoral District, which you might be asked for, as well as your Voter District Information. It’s okay if you don’t know these, as they can look them up for you when you arrive to vote, but knowing these numbers might minimize your time at the polling place. If you have questions on your rights as a voter, click here. If you have more questions, please visit the Campaign Finance Board’s FAQs

First time voters should know the following:

  • There are multiple federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, national origin and disability status. 

  • According to the NYS Board of Elections: “Generally, New York State employees are eligible for up to two hours of paid time off to vote if they do not have 'sufficient time to vote.' An employee is deemed to have 'sufficient time to vote' if an employee has four consecutive hours to vote either from the opening of the polls to the beginning of their work shift, or four consecutive hours between the end of a working shift and the closing of the polls.”

  • Language support and resources vary on your community and polling location. Most polling locations have English and Spanish speakers. However, depending on the languages spoken in your community, your polling site might have poll workers who also speak Chinese, Yiddish, Creole and other languages. 

  • While ID may not be necessary on the day of voting, since you were most likely asked for a form of ID when you registered to vote, it is a good precaution to bring your ID with you on the day of the election. Find out more here. (Note that if you've voted in NYS before, you do not need to show ID.)

Now that you have a voting plan, it’s important to know who will be on your ballot and the candidates you can vote for.

When you search for your poll site here, you can click the button that says "Sample Ballot" and you will be shown what your ballot will look like. It’s important to note that for this election on November 3rd, you will not just be voting for the President, but also for your congressional representatives, State Senate, State Assembly, and possibly other positions such as judges.

There are many websites where you can find out more about the candidates, such as Who's On the Ballot and Ballot Ready. It’s important to spend time reading about their ideas and policies so you have a better understanding of what they would do if they win. 

Important Dates for This Election: 

  • October 9 is the last day to register for the Election.

  • October 24 is the start of early voting in New York. 

  • October 27 is the last day to request an Absentee Ballot by phone, fax, or mail.

  • November 2 is the last day to request an absentee ballot in person at your local borough office.

  • November 3 is the last day to postmark an absentee ballot and send it in. It is also the last day to bring your ballot in-person to the local board of elections office or to any poll site.

  • November 3 is the day of the election.


Check your voter registration: https://nationalvoterregistrationday.org/register-to-vote/ and https://voterreg.dmv.ny.gov/MotorVoter/

Absentee Voting: https://vote.nyc/page/absentee-voting

Find Your Poll Site + Sample Ballot: https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc/

Find Information on the candidates: https://www.headcount.org/issues-and-candidates/

Your Rights and Voting Info: https://www.nyclu.org/en/issues/voting/your-rights-voting-info 

Discover the 2020 Election Reading List

As New Yorkers prepare for Election Day on November 3, The New York Public Library is proud to present its 2020 Election Reading List. The books on this list illuminate voting issues including healthcare, education, climate change, and foreign policy, and explore subjects including political polarization, the media, and movements toward greater justice and socioeconomic equity. Make an informed decision. Read as if your vote depends on it.