Theoretically, voting is pretty easy.
You walk into a precinct, make some selections and you’re done — a 10-minute workday interlude after which you can proudly say you participated in the democratic system.
The hard part, of course, is figuring out everything that’s needed in order for you to approach that screen and select your leaders.
When I moved to North Carolina last year, I found myself enormously frustrated as I combed through all the information related to casting a ballot. In an effort to assuage the concerns of new and future residents, or those who haven’t voted yet and want to, Carolina Public Press has put together this quick guide to voting in the Tar Heel State.
Can I vote?
Registration is open to anyone who is at least 18 years old (16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register), is a United States resident and has lived in their county where they’re registering to vote for 30 days.
People currently incarcerated who are not serving a felony sentence can also vote. Those who have served out felony sentences regain their right to vote, per an N.C. Superior Court decision last summer.
Where do I register to vote?
Before you can claim your “I voted” sticker, you must register. This is a fairly easy process that can be done online, by mail or in person.
If you go the online route, look no further than N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles website. You’ll be directed to an app called myNCDMV, where you can renew your car registration, order specialized license plates and more. After making a log-in, this is where you’ll virtually submit your voter registration application.
If you’d prefer to go in person to register, any DMV in the state works. There are also several other state agencies with offices throughout North Carolina where you can fill out your application, such as the divisions of public health and social services. The N.C. Division of Services for the Blind and the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are available as registration spots for people with disabilities.
You may also be able to register at your local library. Just visit and ask for a registration form.
What do I need to register? What’s the deadline?
Whether online, in person or by mail, the registration form only requires you to provide your name, birthday, address and signature. You are not required to pick a political affiliation on your registration application, but you can if you want to.
All registration forms are available in Spanish.
A few weeks after you’ve submitted your form, a voter registration card with your voting location will arrive in the mail.
The deadline to register to vote in an upcoming election is 25 days before Election Day. For the quickly approaching general election on Nov. 8, the registration deadline is Oct. 14 unless you choose to vote early.
Early voting, which will be Oct. 20 through Nov. 5 for this election, allows you to register at the same place you cast your ballot.
Where do I vote?
The government uses many buildings — libraries, schools, community centers — as voting precincts.
If you lose the postcard that provides your voting location, there’s no need to worry or spend hours on the phone trying to figure out where to vote. There are several websites, such as this one from the N.C. State Board of Elections or this one from a national nonprofit, that can tell you where your precinct is.
These websites can also tell you your registration status if you can’t remember if or where you registered.
On Election Day, you must go to your precinct to fill out your ballot. But if you choose to vote early, you can vote at any early voting location in your county.
Early voting locations are not the same as Election Day precincts. Here’s where you can find a list of early voting locations.
What will be on my ballot? Can I see it before I vote?
The internet has provided the ability to easily see exactly whom and what you’re voting for before you walk into the precinct.
If you go to the State Board of Elections website and type in your name and county, you’ll be directed to a page with your voter information and a link to a sample ballot identical to the one you’ll see when you vote.
Sample ballots through the state website aren’t yet available for the November election, but the Board of Elections must have absentee ballots available by Sept. 9, so they’ll likely be available around that time.
When you register to vote, you have the option of picking a political party. If you don’t or if you choose unaffiliated, you’ll be asked to pick a Democratic, Republican, Libertarian or Green party ballot when you arrive at your polling place for a primary election. Otherwise, precinct workers will give you the ballot of the party matching your registration.
If you want to change your affiliation for an upcoming election, you have to do so within 25 days of Election Day. Early voters can change affiliation at the same time and same location when they go to vote.
If you’re unaffiliated and not sure which ballot you want or want to get ahead on your candidate research, there are other resources, like Ballotpedia, that will show everyone who is running for every office. You just type in your address on this site, and all candidates appear.
What happens when I go to vote? Will I have to wait in line? Do I need an ID?
You made it to Election Day! (Or two weeks before, if you’re voting early.) Now what?
First of all, go to your assigned precinct. You can find out where it is by looking at the postcard you receive from the N.C. State Board of Elections, or you may look it up online or ask your local board of elections.
Precincts are almost always engulfed in campaign signs, so they’re pretty easy to find. Every time I’ve voted, arrows and signs have directly routed me to where I needed to go.
If you’re worried about being harangued as you walk in the door, campaigning is restricted at voting locations in North Carolina. Campaigners can be near polling places, but they have to be at least 25 feet away from the door.
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Anyone who is in line but who hasn’t made it to a voting booth by 7:30 p.m. is still able to cast ballots.
North Carolina has election-related accommodations for people with disabilities, such as machines that make selections for the voter and letting a relative in the booth to assist. Curbside voting is also available for people unable to enter the polling place due to age or physical and mental disabilities.
Voting during a lunch break or right before picking the kids up from school is probably your best bet at avoiding lines. According to the state Board of Elections website, the busiest voting times are early in the morning and just before polls close.
When you walk into a polling station, there will be several tables with different sections of the alphabet assigned to them. Pick the table with the section that includes the first letter of your last name.
The poll worker will ask your name and address, and then request your signature. North Carolina is one of 15 states that does not require identification documents when voting. That’s been the case since last year when N.C. Superior Court judges ruled that requiring voter identification was unconstitutional.
After signing a form to confirm your identity, poll workers will hand you a paper ballot — exactly the same as the sample ballot retrieved from the state’s website — and direct you to a small booth to cast your vote.
I’ve filled out my ballot. What should I do next?
Once you’re finished, look for a poll worker and a machine where you submit your ballot. You feed the ballot through the machine, and voilà! You’ve voted. Poll workers cannot feed the ballot through the machine — I unknowingly made the mistake of trying to hand my paper to a worker the first time I voted in North Carolina.
Throughout the whole process, no workers are allowed to look at your ballot or sway you in any way.
If you’re interested in learning more about which voting equipment is used in your county, the state maps that out here.