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Election 2012: Know your rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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Michelle Croteau
FindLaw
651-687-5330
michelle.croteau@thomsonreuters.com

FindLaw
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(ARA) --

Federal, state and local elections in 2012 are shaping up to make this one of the most anticipated election seasons in U.S. history. In addition to voting for the president of the United States, 33 of 100 U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs, as well as all 435 U.S. Congressional seats and the governorships for 13 states and territories.

As Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012) draws near, many Americans may be wondering about what they need to do to ensure they're able to vote. In a number of states across the country, state legislatures are changing the laws that determine who can vote in their state, as well as the requirements for registering to vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states have considered new laws involving photo identification for voting.

Proponents of photo identification laws say requirements to show I.D. at the time you vote helps prevent voter fraud, according to research by FindLaw.com, the nation's leading source of free online legal information. However, opponents say photo identification requirements could prevent and discourage those Americans from voting who may have difficulty in obtaining a photo I.D.

Other concerns involve where college students should vote if they're attending school away from home, and the growing number of Americans who are choosing to vote with absentee ballots.

If you're wondering about your voting rights and other election matters, consider these tips from FindLaw.com:

Register for the federal election.
If you are voting for the first time in a federal election, you need to register to vote. Each state has its own voter registration process and deadlines for voting. You can register to vote by going online to rockthevote.com, a website geared to helping young voters understand their voting rights. You can also visit a local county, state or federal office in your area. Federal election laws require that you show proof of identity such as valid photo identification (driver's license, U.S. passport) or a utility bill, government check or government document with your name and current address to register.

Register for state and local elections. Each state has its own process and deadlines for voter registration. In some states, such as Minnesota, you can register and vote on Election Day. Other states require that you register between 15 to 30 days in advance. To register, check the rules in the state where you reside. Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Clark County, Nev., allow you to fully register to vote online.

Do your research if you're a college student. If you're attending college in a city or state away from your hometown, you have the right to choose where you want to vote. If you still want to have a say in your hometown's local elections, you should contact the city hall in your hometown to request an absentee ballot. But if you want to vote in the local and state elections where your college campus is located, you'll need to look into registration in your college town. That's where things can get tricky. Voting laws can be confusing and restrictive in some states that don't want to encourage college students from other states from voting in their local and state elections. To learn more about voter eligibility, visit the Brennan Center for Justice at brennancenter.org/studentvoting.

Overcome language barriers. The United States Election Assistance Commission offers a voter's guide to federal elections in 10 languages, including Cherokee, Chinese, Dakota, Japanese, Korean, Navajo, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese, in addition to English.

How to vote absentee. The Federal Voting Assistance Program provides information for U.S. citizens living abroad and military personnel stationed overseas on how to vote by absentee in an upcoming election. You can vote absentee in local, state and federal elections if you are a U.S. citizen, are 18 years of age or older and are an active duty member of the Armed Forces, Merchant Marine, Public Health Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a family member of the above, or a U.S. citizen residing outside the United States.

How to vote early. In a growing number of states, you don't have to wait until Election Day to cast your ballot for the next president of the United States. For a long time, many states required you to give an excuse such as "having surgery" or "out of town on business" to get an absentee ballot. However, 27 states now offer absentee ballots that can be returned in person or by mail, and which don't require a stated reason. Additionally, 32 states now offer in-person early voting (an average of 22 days prior to Election Day). Two states, Oregon and Washington, offer a voting system completed entirely by mail.

What to do you if you have a felony conviction.
If you've been convicted of a felony and have served your time, check with the state you live in to see if you're eligible to vote. States vary on this -- some allow you to vote immediately upon release from prison, even if you're still on probation. Others don't.

Don't let public assistance stop you from voting.
Some Americans may believe that they don't have the right to vote because they're homeless, living in a shelter, or accepting welfare or other forms of public assistance. But if you meet the eligibility requirements to vote in your state, you can vote, regardless of any of these factors. To learn more about your voting rights, visit FindLaw.com. 

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