The 2024 election season is here – vote in your state’s primary – or in Illinois by March 19!
Visit our Primary Elections Education Guide to learn more!

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NUVotes

Northwestern's comprehensive 50-state voter-services hub

2024 Primary Elections Education Guide

The 2024 election season is here! From January through September, states will hold Primary Elections to decide the major party nominees for the General Election in November. Use this guide to learn more about the upcoming elections and how you can participate.

  • What Is a Primary?

    Why Should I Vote in the Primaries?

  • When Is My State's Primary?

    Should I Vote in Illinois or in My Home State?

  • How Do I Register & Vote?

    FAQs About Registration & Voting in All 50 States

  • How Can I Make an Informed Decision?

    What's On My Ballot? How Do I Decide?

NU students voting in the 2020 Presidential Primary Election at the Evanston Civic Center.

What Is a Primary Election? What Are They For?

In the November 2024 General Election, voters will choose the President of the United States, every member of the U.S. House of Representatives (435), one third of U.S. Senators (35), one fourth of state governors (11), and the vast majority of state legislators (over 6,000), in addition to countless other state and local officials.

Primary elections are designed to narrow the field of candidates for the general election and/or select the major party nominees for each office. In most states, each political party will hold a primary election and the winning candidates will go on to compete in the general election in November. In some states, political parties aren’t included on the primary ballot and the top two candidates move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Learn more about what’s at stake in the 2024 Primary Election season and follow along with the results!

 

Why Should I Vote in the Primaries?

Sometimes it feels like there is nothing we can do to change our society and that those with more power than us will always get their way. But exercising your right to vote is one of the many things that you can do to help create change! Each election, you get a say in who will lead your community, what issues will be addressed, and how resources will be allocated.

Even in a presidential election year, the primaries are about so much more than President. The candidates in office on the state and local level shape policies and practices around issues you care about – like education, criminal justice, health care access, and more – and can impact your day-to-day life even more than candidates and policies on the federal level.

Voting in a primary gives you the best chance of having a candidate that you like, who will advance your policy preferences, in the general election. Also, for many state and local races, where one party has a strong advantage over the other in the general election, the primary may be where the most meaningful decisions are made.

With control of the Presidency, Congress, state legislatures, and so many local and national issues at stake, your voice – and your vote – matters.

 

Learn More About the Primaries

How does the presidential primary process work?

In order to determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, the parties each hold a series of elections – caucuses or primaries in each state – in which voters express their preference among the candidates running for their party’s nomination.

These elections happen state by state, from January through June. Based on the results of each state’s vote, delegates are awarded to the party’s national convention. States with larger populations have more delegates than states with smaller populations. So in order to become their party’s nominee, a candidate doesn’t have to win the most states, they have to win the most delegates.

After the primaries are over, the delegates from each state go to their party’s national convention to vote on the party’s nominee for president. The delegates vote in a way that reflects the primary results in their state, which means the nominee is often clear well before the convention, based on the delegate count. The presidential nominees also announce their vice presidential running mates at the convention, and the general election season begins.

Are primaries only for president?

No! States are also holding primaries for other important federal, state, and local offices, including U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, other state executives and legislators, and more. See ‘What’s on my ballot?’ to learn how to preview the offices on your ballot and educate yourself on the candidates and issues.

Who can vote in a primary? Do I have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican?

It depends. Who is eligible to vote in a primary varies by state and sometimes by party. 

Some states have open primaries, which means you don’t have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican to participate; any registered voter can choose any party’s primary ballot.

Many states have closed primaries, which means you must be a registered Democrat or Republican to participate in that party’s primary. Others have semi-closed primaries, in which unaffiliated voters can participate in any party’s primary, but voters registered with a party affiliation must choose that party’s ballot.

In some states, the Democratic and Republican parties may have different rules for who can participate in their primaries. A few other states use a top-two or nonpartisan system, where all candidates are listed on the same ballot regardless of party.

Learn what type of primary your state is holding for its Presidential Primary or State Primary.

Can I vote third party in a primary election?

It depends. While the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the two major national political parties in the U.S., there are many other minor political parties (sometimes called third parties) that organize on local, state, and federal levels to get their candidates into elected office. Due to their smaller sizes, it can be more difficult for minor parties to get their candidates onto ballots. Additionally, states have different rules on whether minor parties can participate in primary elections. Visit Ballotpedia to learn more about third parties and how they operate in primary elections in general, or visit the website for your third party of choice to learn more about their nominating process.

My state has a caucus instead of a primary. What’s the difference? Can I vote in a caucus while living out of state?

Both caucuses and primaries have the same result – to help the Democratic and Republican parties choose their nominee for president – but they go about it in different ways. A caucus is an in-person meeting where party members come together to discuss, debate, and choose a candidate, often through a series of votes. Because of this in-person format, caucuses typically do not allow for vote-by-mail or absentee voting. A primary is a traditional secret ballot election, and typically allows for vote-by-mail or absentee voting. Usually when you hear people refer to “the primaries” they are talking about both types of elections. We also use the general term throughout this guide.

Why does my state have more than one primary date listed?

The presidential primary process is organized by the political parties and is exclusively for the office of President. In most states, the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries are on the same day, but in some states, they might take place on different days.

States also organize primaries to determine nominees for other federal, state, and local offices. In some states, these are held at the same time as the presidential primary, on the same ballot. Other states might hold a presidential preference caucus or primary, and then a separate state primary. There might be other runoff elections or special elections scheduled as well.

See When Is My Primary? and What’s On My Ballot? to learn more about your state’s primaries.

When Is My State’s Primary?

The Illinois Primary Election will be held on Tuesday, March 19.

In other states, presidential primaries will be held between January and June, and state primaries may continue through September. View a calendar of Primary Election Dates by State to look up your state’s primary date(s) and registration and absentee ballot request deadlines. Or view a Primary Election Calendar by Date to see the 2024 presidential primary schedule chronologically.

 

Where Should I Vote? Should I Vote In Illinois or In My Home State?

That’s completely up to you! As a college student, you have the legal right to register and vote at either your permanent address or your campus address. You might want to consider where you feel more connected to your community or more informed about local issues, where you feel your vote will make the greatest impact, or where you will be when the election is taking place and whether you prefer to vote in person or via mail. Either way, we can help you navigate the process.

 

How Do I Register & Vote?

In Illinois
In Other States

Registering and Voting in Illinois

Registering

Who can register and vote in the Illinois Primary Election?

You can vote in Illinois if you are U.S citizen, at least 18 years old on Election Day, a resident of Illinois for at least 30 days before Election Day, and not in jail for a felony conviction. In order to vote, you first must be registered at an Illinois address.

Do I have to be registered as a Democrat or a Republican?

No. When you arrive at your polling place, you will be asked to declare which party’s ballot you would like to vote for this primary. You may change this selection from primary to primary. You may also choose a non-partisan ballot, which will contain referenda (opinion questions about proposed changes to local laws) only. Note that your choice of party ballot may become part of your voter record, and may be made available to political parties and candidates for future elections.

How do I know if or where I’m registered?

You can check your registration status online through our online Check Registration Tool, or through your local election authority. Check the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County), Chicago, or elsewhere in Illinois.

What if my election authority says I’m not registered?

If you registered recently, it often takes several weeks for registration requests to be processed. If you cannot confirm your registration from a previous year, simply re-register.

If you have concerns about your registration, contact your local election authority. For Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County), e-mail Voter.Reg@cookcountyil.gov or call (312)603-0906. For Chicago, e-mail cboe@chicagoelections.gov or call (312)269-7900.

If you run into a problem, don’t panic – you still have the option to register and vote in Illinois through Election Day.

How can I register to vote or update my registration with my current address?

In Illinois, you can register to vote in advance:

Online (Requires an IL Drivers License or State ID) By March 3rd
By Mail (Need Support with Printing & Mailing?) By February 20th (Postmarked)

 

If you have passed these deadlines, it is not too late! You can register and vote at the same time, during early voting or on Election Day.

How often do I need to register?

Registration typically does not expire. However, you must update your registration if your address, name, or signature has changed. If you don’t vote for several years, or your county sends you election mail that gets returned, you may be removed from the voter rolls, so it’s always a good idea to check to make sure your registration is current.

How can I change or update my registration with my current address?

To change or update your voter registration, simply re-register. In the registration form, there will be a space to list your previous registration address (or as much as you can remember). You may temporarily be registered in both places until you are removed from the voter rolls at your previous address. That’s okay; just be sure not to vote or request a ballot in both places!

Is it too late to register to vote?

No. If you haven’t registered yet, it is not too late!

Grace Period Registration & Voting
Grace Period Registration allows you to register and vote at the same time, during the Early Voting period up to the day before the election. Note that if you choose Grace Period Registration, you must cast your ballot immediately after registering.

If you live in Evanston or anywhere in suburban Cook County, you can register and vote at the Evanston Civic Center (2100 Ridge Ave, Room G300) or 50+ other sites, starting March 4th. See Early Voting Locations & Hours for Cook County Residents.

If you live in Chicago, you can register and vote at any of 50+ locations throughout the city, starting March 4th. See Early Voting Locations & Hours for Chicago Residents.

If you live in another county in Illinois, see Early Voting Locations & Hours by County (be sure to choose 2024 General Primary).

To register to vote through Grace Period Registration, you must present TWO forms of ID. You will be required to cast your ballot immediately after registering.

Election Day Registration & Voting
You can also register to vote on Election Day at your polling place with TWO forms of ID.

What identification do I need to register?

To register to vote in person, you must present TWO forms of ID:

  1. Something that proves your identity: A Wildcard, driver’s license, state ID, passport, birth certificate, or social security card
  2. Something that shows your current address: Postmarked mail, a utility bill, a bank or credit card statement, a pay stub, a lease or rental contract, or in Evanston, a printout from CAESAR that shows your local address (CAESAR > Main Menu > Personal Profile > My Addresses)

To register to vote online, you must provide an IL driver’s license or state ID number and the last four digits of your Social Security Number. To register to vote by mail, you must provide the last four digits of your Social Security Number only. If you register to vote by mail, you may be required to show ID (proof of identity and proof of address) the first time you vote or request or return your ballot.

For help getting the IDs you need to register, see VoteRiders.

I am currently registered at my permanent address. Can I change my registration to my campus address?

Yes. Students have a legal right to register and vote at either their permanent address or their campus address. To do this, re-register to vote in Evanston.

Voting

Where do I vote? Where is my polling place? When are the polls open?

You have the option to either vote early or vote on Election Day.

To vote on Election Day (Tuesday, March 19th), you must go to your assigned polling place.

To find your polling place, use the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County), Chicago, or elsewhere in Illinois.

If you live on north campus, your assigned polling place is the Noyes Cultural Arts Center (927 Noyes St). If you live on south campus, your assigned polling place is Parkes Hall (1870 Sheridan).

Note that polling places are always subject to change, even on short notice, so be sure to double check the location using the search tools above just before you go to vote.

On Election Day, all polling places are open from 6 AM to 7 PM.

Can I vote early? When and where can I vote early?

Yes. Early voting allows you to avoid lines at the polls on Election Day by casting your ballot ahead of time, at a time that is convenient for you.

If you live in Evanston or anywhere in suburban Cook County, you can vote early at the Evanston Civic Center (2100 Ridge Ave, Room G300) or 50+ other sites, starting March 4th. See Early Voting Locations & Hours for Cook County Residents.

If you live in Chicago, you can vote early at any of 50+ locations throughout the city, starting March 4th. See Early Voting Locations & Hours for Chicago Residents.

If you are registered in another county in Illinois, see Early Voting Locations & Hours by County (be sure to choose 2024 General Primary).

You can register to vote on all early voting days; however, you must present TWO forms of ID to do so.

Can I vote by mail? How can I request a vote-by-mail ballot?

Yes. All Illinois voters can choose to vote by mail.

Request a Vote By Mail Ballot for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County), Chicago, or elsewhere in Illinois. If you are not yet registered to vote in Illinois, you can request a Vote by Mail Ballot on Illinois’ online or mail-in Voter Registration Forms. You must request a Vote by Mail Ballot by March 14th, though you are encouraged to submit your request as early as possible to make sure you receive your ballot on time. You should also have the option to be added to a permanent vote-by-mail list, so that you receive a mail-in ballot for future elections automatically.

Once you submit your request, you will be mailed a paper ballot to the address you choose, to complete, sign, and deliver or mail back in the enclosed return envelope.

When will I receive my ballot? How can I check on the status of my ballot? What if I don't receive my ballot?

Illinois Vote by Mail Ballots typically begin being mailed to voters five to six weeks before the election, and then on an ongoing basis as requests are processed, which can take several weeks.

If you have requested a Vote by Mail Ballot but have not yet received one, and it is past that timeline, you may be able to check on the status of your ballot online. Enter your address into the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County) or Chicago. Elsewhere in Illinois, contact your local election authority to check on the status of your ballot request.

If you live on campus, note that mail can sometimes take a bit longer to make its way through the campus mail system. Remember to check your mailbox regularly. You also might want to check with staff in the mail room and at the package center.

If you run into trouble (e.g. your local election authority did not receive your ballot request, or there was a problem with it, or they mailed you a ballot but you did not receive it), your local election authority should be able to help you identify some alternative options. There may still be time to submit a new request, especially if you can do so via phone, fax, or email. Or you still have the option to vote in person, during early voting or on Election Day.

How can I return my vote-by-mail ballot?

You can return your completed ballot by mail, or if you are voting in Evanston, Chicago, or elsewhere in suburban Cook County, you can deliver your ballot to special secure ballot drop boxes available at all early voting sites.

If you are voting in Evanston or elsewhere in suburban Cook County, you can deliver your ballot to the drop box at the Evanston Civic Center (2100 Ridge Ave, Room G300) or to any of the 50+ ballot drop boxes in Suburban Cook County during early voting (March 4th – March 18th).

If you are voting in Chicago, you can deliver your ballot to any of the 50+ ballot drop boxes in Chicago during early voting (March 4th – March 18th), or on Election Day (March 19th).

For other counties, or to return your ballot via mail, simply drop your stamped or postage-paid envelope in the nearest USPS mailbox. On the Evanston Campus, mailboxes are available on the corners of Colfax and Sheridan, Foster and Sheridan, and Hinman and Sheridan. See our mailing tips to find mailbox and post office locations near you, guidance if you are mailing close to the deadline, and more. Your ballot must be postmarked no later than Election Day, but you are encouraged to return your ballot as soon as you are able.

NU Votes can help with stamps, mailing, or other requirements such as copies of IDs at any of our in-person voter services stations. NU Votes Dropboxes are not intended for ballot return.

What identification do I need to vote? What can I take with me into the voting booth?

If you registered to vote by mail, and are voting for the first time at your current registration address, you may be required to show ID (including proof of identity and proof of address) to vote. (This is especially true if you did not include an Illinois driver’s license or state ID number or Social Security Number on your registration form.) If you are registering during early voting or on Election Day, you must bring TWO forms of ID. Otherwise, in Illinois, you are NOT required to show ID to vote. However, we recommend bringing a Wildcard or other photo ID just in case. For help getting the IDs you need to vote, see VoteRiders.

You are allowed to bring notes or sample ballots with you into the voting booth and to look up information on your phone. However, in Illinois, you may NOT take any photos of your ballot or inside the polling place.

What if I don’t have my Voter Registration Card?

You do NOT need your Voter Registration Card to vote. However, you must be registered. Make sure to verify your registration status through our online Check Registration Tool, or through your local election authority. Check the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County), Chicago, or elsewhere in Illinois. If you run into a problem, don’t panic – you still have the option to register and vote in Illinois through Election Day.

How can I receive voting reminders?

If you use any of our online voter services tools, Vote.org will automatically send important election information, deadlines, and voting reminders via email and text. NU Votes may send occasional email updates as well. (You can unsubscribe from these at any time.) To sign up to receive voting reminders separately, use our Election Reminders tool.

How can I make sure my ballot is counted?

Make sure to register to vote or check or update your registration in advance if you are able.

If you are voting by mail, request your ballot well in advance of the deadline (typically at least one month prior to Election Day), and check to make sure your request was received and your ballot is on the way. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully on your ballot request form as well as on the ballot and ballot envelope. Complete all fields, and review the instructions for any additional materials needed, such as an ID copy or witness or notary signature. Make sure to sign in all places required, and make sure your signature matches the signature on file with your voter registration. Finally, return your ballot well in advance of your state’s deadline (typically, at least one week before the deadline).

You may be able to check online to confirm that your ballot was received and will be counted. Enter your address into the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County) or or Chicago. Elsewhere in Illinois, you can contact your local election authority directly via phone or email.

If you are voting in person, be sure to bring proper IDs (including proof of identity and proof of address). Make sure your signature matches the signature on file with your voter registration. Follow the instructions carefully as you complete and submit your ballot.

What if I encounter a problem at the polls?

If you or others encounter issues at a polling place or barriers to voting, contact the National Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE. If your eligibility to vote is challenged, you should still be able to vote a provisional ballot, which will be reviewed after Election Day to determine if your vote can still be counted.

Registering and Voting in Other States

Registering

Who can register to vote in my state?

You are eligible to vote if you are a U.S. citizen and will be at least 18 years old on Election Day. You must be a resident of your state (sometimes for at least 30 days prior to Election Day) and meet your state’s requirements. Some states have restrictions on voting for people with felony convictions or who are mentally incapacitated. Learn more about your state’s requirements.

Who can vote in my state’s primary? Do I have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican?

It depends. Who is eligible to vote in a primary varies by state and sometimes by party. 

Some states have open primaries, which means you don’t have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican to participate; any registered voter can choose any party’s primary ballot.

Some states have closed primaries, which means you must be a registered Democrat or Republican to participate in that party’s primary. Others have semi-closed primaries, in which unaffiliated voters can participate in any party’s primary, but voters registered with a party affiliation must choose that party’s ballot.

In some states, the Democratic and Republican parties may have different rules for who can participate in their primaries. And a few states use a top-two or top-four system, where all candidates are listed on the same ballot regardless of party.

View Primary Types by State to look up the rules governing your state’s primary.

How do I know if or where I’m registered, or whether I'm registered with a political party?

You can check your registration status online through our online Check Registration Tool, or through your local election authority.

What if my election authority says I’m not registered?

If you registered recently, it often takes several weeks for registration requests to be processed. If you cannot confirm your registration from a previous year, simply re-register.

If you have concerns about your registration, contact your local election authority. If you run into a problem, don’t panic – you may still have time to register.

How can I register to vote?

First, make sure there is still time to register before your state’s deadline. Some states close registration as far as 30 days in advance of an election, while others will allow you to register through Election Day. In some states, deadlines may vary depending on whether you are registering online, by mail, or in person. To view the registration deadlines for your state, see State Election Dates & Deadlines.

To register or update your registration in any state, use our online Voter Registration Tool.

In most states, registration can be done entirely online if you have an in-state driver’s license or state ID number. In some cases, you may need to print and mail a form to complete your registration. NU Votes can help with printing and mailing or other requirements. In most states, you can also register in person at your local election office.

How often do I need to register?

Registration typically does not expire. However, you must update your registration if your address, name, or signature has changed. If you don’t vote for several years, or your county sends you election mail that gets returned, you may be removed from the voter rolls, so it’s always a good idea to check to make sure your registration is current.

How can I change or update my registration with my current address or choice of political party?

To change or update your voter registration, simply re-register.

If you are changing your address, on the registration form, there will be a space to list your previous registration address (or as much as you can remember). You may temporarily be registered in both places until you are removed from the voter rolls at your previous address. That’s okay; just be sure not to vote or request a ballot in both places!

What identification do I need to register?

If you are registering online or by mail, most states will request an in-state driver’s license or state ID number (do not use an out-of-state ID number), OR if you do not have one, the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Some states may request or require your full Social Security Number, or may request or require both a driver’s license or state ID number and the last four digits of your Social Security Number.

If you are registering in person, or if you are voting for the first time after registering by mail, you may be required to show ID, including something that proves your identity (a driver’s license, state ID, passport, birth certificate, or social security card) and something that shows your current address (postmarked mail, a utility bill, a bank or credit card statement, a pay stub, a lease or rental contract, etc.).

For help getting the IDs you need to register, see VoteRiders.

I am currently registered at my campus address. Can I change my registration to my permanent address?

Yes. Students have a legal right to register and vote at either their permanent address or their campus address. To do this, re-register using your permanent address.

What if I am from a U.S. territory?

If you are a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. to attend school, you have the option to register and vote at your campus address in Illinois or your permanent address in your territory. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you should register and vote in your territory.

Unfortunately, our standard forms and online tools will not work for U.S. territories, and many of the 50-states resources linked in this guide will not contain information specific to your territory. You can find upcoming election dates and deadlines and more information about how to register and vote in your territory in the U.S. Vote Foundation’s State Voting Requirements & Information resource. You can also find links there to your territory’s board of elections website, where you can access registration and absentee ballot request forms. NU Votes can help with form completion, printing and mailing, or other questions.

What if I am studying abroad or out of the country? What if I am a military or overseas voter?

If you are a U.S. citizen living outside the U.S. (including students studying abroad) or an active duty service member, military spouse or dependent, there are special forms you should use. You can use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to register and request your absentee ballot for your voting residence in any U.S. state or territory. In addition, if you request but do not receive your absentee ballot in time to return it by the appropriate deadline, you can vote using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAP) as a backup ballot. Learn more about who is eligible and how to determine your voting residence, and get answers to FAQs specific to your situation through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. NU Votes can help with form completion, printing and mailing, or other questions.

Voting – If I Will Be In State During My State's Primary

Where do I vote? Where is my polling place? When are the polls open?

To find your polling place, use the Polling Place Locator for your state. The location and hours of your polling place might vary depending on whether you are voting early or on Election Day.

To vote on Election Day, you must go to your assigned polling place. Polling places generally open between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and close between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. For the specific hours for your state, see Polling Place Hours by State.

Note that polling places are always subject to change, even on short notice, so be sure to double check the location just before you go to vote.

What identification do I need to vote? What can I take with me into the voting booth?

Most states request or require some form of ID in order to vote, either for all voters, or only those who registered by mail and are voting for the first time at their current registration address. As a result, while it may not be required, we recommend bringing ID (including a current photo ID and proof of address) when you go to vote. For the specific rules for your state, see Voter ID Requirements by State. For help getting the IDs you need to vote, see VoteRiders.

As a general rule, you are allowed to bring notes or sample ballots with you into the voting booth and to look up information on your phone. However, in some states, you are NOT allowed to take photos of your ballot or inside the polling place.

What if I don’t have my Voter Registration Card?

You do NOT need your Voter Registration Card to vote. However, you must be registered. Make sure to verify your registration status through our online Check Registration Tool, or through your local election authority. If you run into a problem, don’t panic – you may still have time to register.

What if I encounter a problem at the polls?

If you or others encounter issues at a polling place or barriers to voting, contact the National Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE. If your voter registration cannot be found or your eligibility to vote is challenged, you should still be able to vote a provisional ballot, which will be reviewed after Election Day to determine if your vote can still be counted.

Voting – If I Will Be Out of State During My State's Primary

Can I vote early? Can I vote by mail?

For presidential primaries, it depends on the state. In most cases, yes. However, in some states, party caucuses or conventions may take place in person without an option for voting early or voting by mail, or may be limited to party leaders. Still, for most presidential primaries and all state primaries:

Most states allow early voting (or in-person absentee voting), from 3 days up to 30 or even 45 days prior to each election. To view early voting options for your state, see Early Voting Availability by State (find your state and click ‘Check Deadlines’).

All states allow absentee voting for voters who request it. Some states may require voters to provide an excuse, but even in those states, there will always be an excuse applicable to students (such as being a student by occupation, temporarily living or traveling outside the jurisdiction on Election Day, or being otherwise unavoidably absent or unable to make it to the polling place on Election Day).

In most states, voters must request an Absentee Ballot for each election. Some states offer a permanent absentee ballot list; once a voter is added to this list, they will receive an absentee ballot for each election automatically. And a few states conduct their elections entirely by mail for all voters.

To view absentee voting or vote by mail options for your state, see Absentee Ballot Deadlines by State (find your state and click ‘Check Deadlines’).

How do I request an absentee ballot?

First, make sure there is still time to request an absentee ballot before your state’s deadline. Most states recommend submitting your absentee ballot request at least one month prior to the election, though some states will continue to accept absentee ballot requests one week prior or sometimes even less. View Absentee Ballot Deadlines by State (find your state and click ‘Check Deadlines’). You are encouraged to apply as early as possible to make sure you receive your ballot on time.

To request an absentee ballot for any state, come to the Center for Civic Engagement (1813 Hinman Ave in Evanston, Monday–Friday 9am–5pm), or use our online Absentee Ballot Request Tool. (If the submission of paper forms or any other steps are required, NU Votes can assist with printing, mailing, copies of IDs, etc.)

States typically allow absentee ballot requests to be submitted in person, by mail, and sometimes by fax or email. In some states, registered voters may be able to request absentee ballots entirely online. However, in most cases, you will need to take additional steps like printing, signing, and mailing forms, submitting copies of IDs, etc.

Because of this, we encourage you to take advantage of NU Votes’ in-person voter registration assistance, where you can be sure to complete the process fully and accurately and get any questions answered. If you prefer to use the online Absentee Ballot Request Tool (at least to start the process), NU Votes can assist with printing, mailing, copies of IDs, etc., as needed. Or, the tool will give you instructions on how to complete the process on your own if you wish.

Once you submit your request, you will be mailed a paper ballot to the address you choose, to complete, sign, and return. In some cases, you may be able to download a ballot, or receive one via fax or email.

How do I return my absentee ballot?

Completed absentee ballots can typically be returned by mail or in person, though some states may allow ballots to be returned by fax or email. Your ballot should provide instructions on how, where, and when to return it.

In most states, absentee ballots must be received by the time polls close on Election Day; however, some states may have slightly earlier deadlines, and some states may continue to accept absentee ballots as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. View Absentee Ballot Deadlines by State (find your state and click ‘Check Deadlines’). You are encouraged to return your ballot at least one week prior to Election Day to ensure it is received on time.

If you need help with mailing or simply need an envelope and a stamp, come to the Center for Civic Engagement (1813 Hinman Ave in Evanston, Monday–Friday 9am–5pm).

Where is my absentee ballot? What if I didn’t receive my absentee ballot?

If you have requested an absentee ballot but have not yet received one, contact your local election authority to confirm that they received your absentee ballot application and verify there were no errors in processing.

Some states will allow you to track your absentee ballot online. In the US Vote Foundation’s Election Officials Directory, click ‘State Lookup Tools’ at the bottom of the page, and look for a link next to ‘Where Is My Ballot?.’ If your state does not offer an online tool, find the contact information for your local election authority and contact them directly via phone or email.

If you run into trouble (e.g. they say they have mailed you a ballot but you have not received it), they should be able to help you identify a variety of alternative solutions, which will vary by state.

What’s On My Ballot? How Do I Decide?

In Illinois
In Other States

Educating Yourself – Illinois

What's on my ballot?

The Illinois Primary Election will determine the Democratic and Republican Party nominees for the General Election in November for President, U.S. Representatives, Illinois State Senators and Representatives, judges, county officials, and more.

To view a sample ballot, enter your address into the Voter Information Search Tools for Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County) or ChicagoSample ballots may not be available until closer to the election.

You can also use a resource like BallotReady or Ballotpedia to view your sample ballot and research detailed, nonpartisan information on candidate profiles and positions at the same time.

How can I educate myself? How do I decide who to vote for?

There are lots of great resources that help you preview what’s on your ballot and research detailed, nonpartisan information on each candidate’s profiles and positions. Here are some of our favorites:

  • BallotReady
    Enter your address and click Research Ballot in the Election Center. You’ll be able to preview each office and question on your ballot. You’ll see all the candidates running for each office, and can learn about their backgrounds, where they stand on key issues, endorsements received, and more. For ballot measures, you can review the arguments for and against. Then you can save your selections and print or email your ballot to yourself to bring with you to vote.
  • Ballotpedia
    Enter your address and choose the election. You’ll be able to preview each office and question on your ballot and the candidates running for each office. Ballotpedia sometimes includes more information on candidates, especially those who have previously served in national elected office, including legislation supported or votes on key issues, past election results, analyses of campaign donations, voting records, personal gains from serving in office, and more. You cannot save your selections, but you can record them in another way to bring with you to vote.

Here are some additional ways you can educate yourself and decide who to vote for:

  • Review candidates’ websites and watch candidate debates and forums to hear what the candidates themselves have to say.
  • Check your favorite local news outlet – they typically have candidates complete questionnaires on where they stand on key issues, and editorial boards often make endorsements. Locally, check out the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune.
  • If there is an issue you care about, check whether national or local advocacy organizations are endorsing or supporting candidates.
  • If you identify with a political party or national or local political organization, they typically endorse or support a slate of candidates.
  • If you are voting to elect or retain judges, local bar associations often make recommendations. Locally, check out VoteforJudges.
  • Note that a number of political organizations publish voter guides which give recommendations on who and what to vote for on the entire ballot. You can print these guides out and bring them with you to vote. This is especially helpful if your ballot is lengthy and you feel that you do not have enough time to research every office, candidate, and referendum.
Do I have to vote for every office on the ballot?

No! If you don’t feel sufficiently informed about a particular office, set of candidates, or issue, or you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates, you can choose to leave that category blank. This does not invalidate your ballot – your other selections will still be counted.

How can I get more involved?

To get further involved this election season, you can:

  • Double or triple your vote (or more) by getting friends in your network to commit to vote as well. Help them make their voting plan, and send them reminders to make sure they follow through.
  • Volunteer for a candidate’s campaign, on behalf of a political party, issue advocacy organization, or nonpartisan voter engagement organization.
  • Work the polls! In Illinois, this paid position is open to U.S. citizens, 16 or older, who have lived in Illinois for at least 30 days prior to Election Day. Review the qualifications and pay, and apply now to work as an Election Judge at a polling place in Evanston (or anywhere in suburban Cook County) or Chicago. For elsewhere in Illinois, visit WorkElections.com.

You can also explore additional opportunities for civic engagement beyond voting.

In future election seasons, consider becoming an NU Votes Ambassador. Join our mailing list to learn about future opportunities (select Interested in NU Votes).

How can I participate in elections if I'm not eligible to vote?

Great question! There are many ways to be civically engaged beyond voting. You might also want to learn more about the programs and services offered by the Center for Civic Engagement.

Sources & Additional Resources

Evanston City Clerk – Registration & Voting Information (Evanston)
Cook County Clerk – Registration & Voting Information (Suburban Cook County)
Chicago Board of Elections – Registration & Voting Information (Chicago)
Illinois State Board of Elections – Registration & Voting Information (Illinois)
BallotReady – Sample Ballots & Voter Guides (All 50 States)
Ballotpedia – Election & Voting Information, Sample Ballots & Voter Guides (All 50 States)
Vote.org – Registration & Voting Information (All 50 States)
National Association of Secretaries of State – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)
National Conference of State Legislators – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)
US Vote Foundation – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)

Other Questions?

The NU Votes team is standing by to help! Email nuvotes@northwestern.edu or stop by our drop-in hours.

If you have additional questions or need more specific guidance, contact your local election authority.

Educating Yourself – Other States

What's on my ballot?

The upcoming primary election(s) in your state will determine the major party nominees for the General Election in November for President and a number of federal, state, and local offices. Depending on your state, this might include U.S. Senator and Representatives, Governor, other state executives and legislators, and more.

You can typically view a sample ballot through your local election authority. Select your state, U.S. Domestic Voters, and State Lookup Tools, then look for a link next to ‘Can I View My Sample Ballot?’. Sample ballots may not be available until closer to your state’s election.

Or use a resource like BallotReady or Ballotpedia to view a sample ballot and research detailed, nonpartisan information on candidate profiles and positions at the same time.

How can I educate myself? How do I decide who to vote for?

There are lots of great resources that help you preview what’s on your ballot and research detailed, nonpartisan information on each candidate’s profiles and positions. Here are some of our favorites:

  • BallotReady
    Enter your address and click Research Ballot in the Election Center. You’ll be able to preview each office and question on your ballot. You’ll see all the candidates running for each office,  and can learn about their backgrounds, where they stand on key issues, endorsements received, and more. For ballot measures, you can review the arguments for and against. Then you can save your selections and print or email your ballot to yourself to bring with you to vote.
  • Ballotpedia
    Enter your address and choose the election. You’ll be able to preview each office and question on your ballot and the candidates running for each office. Ballotpedia sometimes includes more information on candidates, especially those who have previously served in national elected office, including legislation supported or votes on key issues, past election results, analyses of campaign donations, voting records, personal gains from serving in office, and more. You cannot save your selections, but you can record them in another way to bring with you to vote.

Here are some additional ways you can educate yourself and decide who to vote for:

  • Review candidates’ websites and watch candidate debates and forums to hear what the candidates themselves have to say.
  • Check your favorite local news outlet – they typically have candidates complete questionnaires on where they stand on key issues, and editorial boards often make endorsements.
  • If there is an issue you care about, check whether national or local advocacy organizations are endorsing or supporting candidates.
  • If you identify with a political party or national or local political organization, they typically endorse or support a slate of candidates.
  • If you are voting to elect or retain judges, local bar associations often make recommendations.
  • Note that a number of political organizations publish voter guides which give recommendations on who and what to vote for on the entire ballot. You can print these guides out and bring them with you to vote. This is especially helpful if your ballot is lengthy and you feel that you do not have enough time to research every office, candidate, and referendum.
Do I have to vote for every office on the ballot?

No! If you don’t feel sufficiently informed about a particular office, set of candidates, or issue, or you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates, you can choose to leave that category blank. This does not invalidate your ballot – your other selections will still be counted.

How can I get more involved?

To get further involved this election season, you can:

  • Double or triple your vote (or more) by getting friends in your network to commit to vote as well. Help them make their voting plan, and send them reminders to make sure they follow through.
  • Volunteer for a candidate’s campaign, on behalf of a political party, issue advocacy organization, or nonpartisan voter engagement organization.
  • Work the polls! Review the qualifications and pay, and apply to become a poll worker in your state at WorkElections.com.

You can also explore additional opportunities for civic engagement beyond voting.

In future election seasons, consider becoming an NU Votes Ambassador. Join our mailing list to learn about future opportunities (select Interested in NU Votes).

How can I participate in elections if I'm not eligible to vote?

Great question! There are many ways to be civically engaged beyond voting. You might also want to learn more about the programs and services offered by the Center for Civic Engagement.

Sources & Additional Resources

BallotReady – Sample Ballots & Voter Guides (All 50 States)
Ballotpedia – Election & Voting Information, Sample Ballots & Voter Guides (All 50 States)
Vote.org – Registration & Voting Information (All 50 States)
National Association of Secretaries of State – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)
National Conference of State Legislators – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)
US Vote Foundation – Election & Voting Information (All 50 States)

Other Questions?

The NU Votes team is standing by to help! Email nuvotes@northwestern.edu or stop by our drop-in hours.

If you have additional questions or need more specific guidance, contact your local election authority.

Be A Part of Northwestern's Voting Culture.

Please note: The information here was compiled from publicly available sources in an effort to help provide students with non-partisan information that they may need to know in order to register correctly and vote in upcoming elections. Northwestern University does not endorse or oppose any candidate or organization in connection with this or any other political campaign or election. Students are responsible for working with their own local election officials to ensure their own correct registration and to verify local laws and policies about voting in their respective districts.