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Who can register to vote? How?

How do I register (or pre-register) to vote?

To vote in North Carolina, you must be registered (on the voter roll) in your county. To register, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen;
  • At least 18 years old by the day of the General Election;
  • A resident of the county for at least 30 days before the election in which you want to vote;
  • A person who is not serving a felony sentence, including probation or parole.
  • A 17 year old may register and vote in a Primary if they will be 18 on the day of the General Election; in the Primary, they may only vote on contests that will appear on the General Election ballot.

In NC, a 16 or 17 year old may pre-register and their registration will become fully effective when they reach the appropriate age to vote.

Use the same registration form to register or to pre-register to vote. Carefully and legibly fill out each section. Include a phone number so an elections official can reach you if something needs to be clarified. Be sure to check the citizenship box correctly, sign the form, and include your date of birth and an identifying number (NC driver’s license number or last 4 digits of your Social Security number).

You do not have to register again each time you vote. You only need to register again if you move, change your name, or after you finish a felony sentence (including any probation or parole; simply having an outstanding restitution payment, similar to a civil fine, does not affect your right to vote).

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Where and when can I register?

You can get a registration form from a public library, high school, your county Board of Elections, NC Division of Motor Vehicles office, or government social service office. You may also download a form in either English or Spanish. Some organizations also sponsor registration drives at schools, festivals, and other events.

NEW VOTERS CANNOT COMPLETELY REGISTER ONLINE. A hard copy of the registration form needs to be signed and mailed or delivered to your county Board of Elections. Voters who are already registered may use the DMV website to update an address within their county (when they order a new driver’s license), but new voters in a county will be mailed a paper form to be signed and mailed to the county Board.

Generally, your registration form must be postmarked or delivered to your county Board of Elections at least 25 days before the election in which you want to vote.

If you miss the 25-day registration deadline, you can use Same Day Registration during Early Voting. (It is not an option on Election Day.)

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What if I missed the 25-day registration deadline? Can I still register and vote?

You can register to vote *after* the regular deadline, but only during the Early Voting period.

Same Day Registration is a good option if you missed the 25-day registration deadline, or have recently become eligible to vote. To use Same Day Registration, you must provide one of the following documents to an election official at an Early Voting location:

  • NC driver’s license or identity card from NC DMV
  • Utility bill (electric, phone, cable, water, etc.), bank statement, or payroll stub with the voter’s name and current address
  • Student photo ID, plus a school document showing the student’s address
  • Any document from any government agency with the voter’s name and current address.

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How can I find out if I am registered to vote?

Use the State Board of Elections voter search engine to see if you are on NC’s voter rolls. Type your first and last name as you think they appear on the registration form; don’t include a middle initial or birth year. You can also type part of a name with an asterisk; for example, Kath* will find Kathy, Katherine, Kathleen, Kathryn, etc. Check the box “I’m not a robot” and hit “Search.” Then select the blue name that’s you. If you don’t find yourself, go back and check the box for “Removed or Denied” near the bottom.

Keep in mind that it can take a couple of weeks for your information to be added to the registration rolls. If you do not find your name on the rolls after three weeks, or if incorrect information is listed, please contact your county Board of Elections. You can also fill out another form and submit it before the registration deadline; there’s no penalty for registering twice at the same address. For guidance on registering, see How Do I Register to Vote?

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What happens after I register to vote?

After about two or three weeks, you should receive a voter registration card in the mail with the name and location of your voting precinct and polling place. You do not need to show this card when you vote. If you have not received your card within three weeks of registering, you should call your county Board of Elections and make sure your voter registration form is being processed.

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Do I re-register if my information changes?

To avoid problems when you vote, you should fill out a new voter registration form if:

  • You change your address.
  • You change your name.
  • You change your party affiliation.

If you are changing your address to a new county, be sure to provide your previous address or at least the old county in the appropriate section of the registration form, in order to cancel your prior registration. Also fill out this section if you are changing any other information, including your name or your party affiliation. It helps to change your registration as soon as possible. Your county Board of Elections depends on an accurate count of voters in each precinct to plan staffing – clean voters rolls can mean shorter lines at the polls.

You may update some information on Election Day if you are registered in the county, as well as make changes using Same Day Registration.

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Can I register and vote if I am a college student or temporary resident?

Under NC law, where you vote depends on where you call “home.” You have two choices if you are a student who has moved away to attend school and has no firm intent to return to a certain address after graduation:

  • You can declare your old address (probably a parent’s address) as your home, because that’s where you return periodically; in that case, you may register and vote in your old hometown.
  • Or you can declare your new address as your home, because that’s where you return day after day. In that case, you may register and vote in your new town.

You have to choose: It’s a serious crime to vote in two places in the same election. If you are already registered to vote in your hometown and now live in another community, you can vote by mail by requesting an Absentee Ballot or you can take advantage of Early Voting on a trip home during the Early Voting period. If you want to register or change your registration to a new address, follow the guidelines in our How Do I Register to Vote? section.

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Can I register if I have a criminal record?

A person convicted of a felony temporarily loses his or her citizenship rights in North Carolina. But you automatically get your rights back after you finish your sentence, including any probation or parole. You do not need a special document saying your rights are restored. You just register to vote like any other citizen. If you were registered before your conviction, you will need to register again.

An outstanding payment of restitution or a civil fine does not affect your voting rights.

It does not matter if your felony conviction occurred outside North Carolina; as long as you have finished your sentence, you are eligible to register and vote.

If you are awaiting trial or if you are serving a misdemeanor sentence, you do not lose your right to vote, even if you are in jail.

If you are in jail, put an address on the registration form where your mail will be accepted and received. (If the Board of Elections’ mail to you is returned as undeliverable, you may not be able to vote.) List that address as your residential and mailing address, even if it is in a different county from the jail, and mail your registration form to the Board of Elections in that county. This is the same Board where you will send your Absentee Ballot request form when the time comes to vote.

As an alternative, you can use the jail’s address where you receive mail and mail your completed registration form to the Board of Elections in the same county as the jail; this is the same Board where you will send your Absentee Ballot request form when the time comes to vote.

Your voter registration card will be mailed to the address that you put down as your mailing address. If you have not received a voting card within three weeks, you can search your registration status online or contact your county Board of Elections. You will vote by following the directions for using an Absentee Ballot in the county where you mailed your registration form.

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What are my voting rights?

Your right to vote is protected by the NC Constitution and a set of state and federal laws. For a basic overview of your rights in North Carolina, please see this NC Voter’s Bill of Rights.

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