How voters can prepare to cast their first ballot


Destinee Sims

It is critical that voters make informed choices when they fill out their ballot.

Jennifer Samano, Features Writer

With presidential elections approaching and early voting now available in some California counties, millions of newly eligible voters are getting ready to cast their ballots for the very first time.  

First time voters make up 21% of the voting population in the United States, yet these newcomers are also the group least likely to register to vote and cast their ballot, according to the Student Training & Education in Public Service (STEPS) writes.  

There are many things voters should know before voting for the first time, such as determining their eligibility, when and where to vote, and learning about the candidates and propositions. This may appear overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be.   

Combing through expert advice, here are five tips to help first-time voters navigate the polls: 

How to register  

Registering to vote is often a simple process, but that varies from state-to-state.   

Voter registration is not federally managed, therefore each state sets its own requirements and deadlines for voters to register, according to Genevieve Carlton with Accredited Online Schools. 

The three most common registration options are: in-person with some states allowing you to register at the DMV or by participating in a voter registration event, online by filling out a registration form on your state’s official website which 38 states and Washington D.C. currently allow, and by mail by visiting  the United States Election Assistance Commission and printing out a National Mail Voter Registration form.  

According to the County of Kern Elections Division website, if eligible to vote and you meet all the qualifications, you may register to vote online through the California Voter Registration website or by visiting the following locations in Kern County and picking up a registration form in person.  

You may visit fire stations, U.S. Post Offices, DMV offices and public libraries. You can also visit the Kern County Elections Division office located at 1115 Truxton Avenue, 1st floor Bakersfield, CA. 93301 or by phone at (661)868-3590 or 1-800-452-VOTE (8683). 

Verify the credibility of sources when researching 

When doing research, it is important to keep in mind that not all sources are created equally. 

Zachary Fagenson, an independent journalistwrites that voters should seek out trusted and transparent sources. His recommendations include reputable research journals and news outlets, publications with data citations, and research organizations partnering with academic institutions. 

Websites ending in “.org” or “.edu” are a good place for voters to start looking for information.  

Vote411, recipient of the 2020 People’s Voice Winner Webby Award, is a voters’ guide with personalized voting information to see what’s on an individual’s ballot, where their polling place is, listings of upcoming debate and forums in their area and more. 

Confirm what documents you need on election day 

Before election day, voters should look into their state’s rules and regulations.  

Carlton writes that everyone should check when they can vote, as most states offer early voting. While most polling locations remain open for at least 12 hours to help guarantee every voter has an opportunity to cast their ballot, some states require employers to let employees vote on Election Day. 

In the state of California, first time voters should plan on showing ID at the polls if they didn’t include a driver’s license number, California ID number, or the last four digits of a social security number during registration. However, showing an ID or any other form of identification are only required if voting in-person. 

Finding your polling location 

Everyone’s polling location is determined by their address.  

The STEPS website explains that voters can find out where their assigned polling place is located by contacting their local election office or by visiting websites such as Get to the Polls or using the search tool. 

For in-person voting, everyone’s polling location will be listed on the sample ballot mailed to them by the county elections office, according to the CapRadio news station voter guide for the 2020 election. 

What to expect at the polling station 

Capradio recommends voters bring their mail-in ballot to help speed up the process for voters and election workers. 

When you arrive at the polls, you may have to wait in line before reaching the front. At this point you will be greeted by a poll worker; they will then ask for your name and ID and proceed to check the voter registration list. 

According to the Kern County Elections Division website you will then fill out a roster and be given a ballot and a marking pen. You will be directed to a voting booth where you will fill out your ballot. Make sure to read the instructions provided on the ballot to avoid any mistakes. 

If you need help filling out your ballot correctly or have made a mistake notify a poll worker.  

Tej Gokhale, Senior Manager for Civic Technology and writer for, writes that if for some reason there is an issue with your voter registration, there’s no need to panic, you may ask for a provisional ballot that will be counted after your registration status has been verified.  

After you’ve asked the poll worker for a provisional ballot, they will then provide you with the instructions necessary to verify your voter status to ensure your vote is counted.  

Casting mail-in ballots 

Any registered voter is eligible to vote by mail, according the Kern County Elections Division. After voting you should return your ballot in the envelope that was also included with your ballot.  

HowtoVote’s website explains that mail-in voters’ ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3, and it must be received by the county elections office no later than Nov. 20. 

According to CapradioHowtoVote’s radio station, and their 2020 election voter guide, ballots can be dropped in any U.S. Postal Service mail box 

You can also use a designated ballot drop box, typically located in libraries and community centers. Mail-in ballots can also be returned to the appropriate county’s elections office, voting center or polling place. 

In Bakersfield, there are several U.S. Postal Service locations that offer the drive-thru drop boxes that voters can access, such as the Stockdale Hwy location. 

HowtoVote lists that ballots must be placed in the designated drop box or returning it in-person no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.   

Drop boxes will be available in Bakersfield from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Oct. 17, 24, and 31. Locations will include Bakersfield College, by the Haley St. entrance, CSU Bakersfield, by the Icardo Center, and any Kern County Library Branch.  

Same Day Voter Registration (Conditional Voter Registration)  

County election officials should offer Conditional Voter Registration provisional voting. 

The California Secretary of State website states Same Day Voter Registration is a “safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information for an election.”  

California’s official deadline to register to vote for Election day was Oct. 19 according to the California Secretary of State Voter Registration Guide. 

However, they do write that citizens who need to register or re-register to vote within 14 days of an election may complete the process by registering and voting at their election’s office, polling place, or vote center.  

Provisional ballots will be counted after the county elections office has thoroughly completed the voter registration verification process. 


Ultimately, there are a variety of resources available for first time voters that need additional assistance preparing for the polls.  

Now more than ever, voters have the ability to enter polling stations informed about the ballot’s contents, allowing voters to cast their votes behind candidates and policies that reflect the change they wish to see at local, state and national levels