The October 4th Voter Registration Deadline Is Here, But Millions Can Still Register and Vote

It is Monday, October 4, 2010. This day is important because it is the deadline in a host of states for first-time voters to register for the November 2nd election. If you are an eligible voter living in one of these states and have not registered to vote, you need to fill out the federal voter registration form or your state's form, and deliver it by hand to election officials TODAY!

However, the good news is that today is NOT the deadline for many voters.

In some states, you only need to have your voter registration form postmarked by today, rather than having it delivered to election officials. So, if you can't get to an election office by the end of the day, at least get to a post office that will date stamp your registration application with today's date.

In more states, the voter registration deadline is not 30 days before Election Day, but 29, 28, 25, 24, 22, 21, 20, 15, 14, or 10 days before the election, or the fourth Tuesday, fourth Saturday, fifth Monday, fourth Wednesday, or second Friday before Election Day. In a few states, you can register and vote on the same day during early voting prior to Election Day, and in several more states, you can even register to vote on Election Day itself.

Sound confusing? Of course it is. Confusion is an unfortunate byproduct of having 50 states set their own election laws, overlain by an undeveloped set of federal election laws. But, on the bright side, some of these rules provide an opportunity after today for people to register and vote.

Another confusing factor is that these voter registration deadlines typically apply only if you have never been registered to vote in the state where you currently live and intend to vote. If you have been registered in the state, but have moved, a different set of rules apply.

Anyone who has moved to a location covered by the same precinct where they were registered to vote before can update their registration up through Election Day and vote. The same protections apply in most states for voters who have moved within the same county. And many states even protect voters who have moved to a different county within the state - allowing them to update their registrations up through Election Day.

However, some states do not protect these intra-county or inter-county movers, and treat them like first-time voters who need to re-register by the general voter registration deadline. If you have moved, you need to check your state rules and update your registration in time so that you can vote. The Brennan Center has a detailed guide for movers with state-specific information. You will also need to make sure you know where to vote, as it varies from state-to-state whether you need to go to your old precinct or your new one when updating your registration and voting.

Another point of confusion is that not all types of voters are treated alike. If you are a college student, you can register to vote either where you have come from, or where you are going to college. So, if you were registered to vote at home, and miss the deadline to register where you are going to school, you can at least vote absentee where you came from. If you registered to vote at school in 2008, as millions did, and still live in the same state, then you will need to check your state's rules for movers and update your registration to vote this November.

Homeowners who have been forced from their foreclosed homes can also remain registered to vote at their old address until they establish a new permanent residence in a number of states, including California. That's a very helpful rule, since there have been nearly a million home foreclosures in California in the last 18 months. The Fair Elections Legal Network has produced state-specific guides to help foreclosed homeowners navigate voter registration rules in high-foreclosure states.

Military and overseas voters also have their own set of rules.

Some states provide a grace period to people who have moved just prior to the election, allowing them to remain registered and vote where they used to live. If you plan to move in October within the state or to a new state, please check the appropriate state rules to see what you need to do to vote. If you need to vote where you used to live, it may be easier to vote an absentee ballot than traveling back to your old precinct.

At the end of the day, the best advice we can offer is to make sure you are registered to vote, and then to follow through and vote. You can register to vote through Rock the Vote's website wherever you live, and their Electionland website helps answer questions. FELN's resources page also has links to all the state election websites. If you can vote early, which you can in many states, we encourage you to, because it helps identify problems before Election Day that can often be corrected.

Please get out there, register, and vote!