Not everyone understands the steps involved in voting, so I thought I'd put together a handy-dandy guide on how to vote.
1. Be, or become, a US citizen.*
2. Avoid conviction for a felony.**
3. Register to vote.***
4. Go to the polls.****
5. Using whatever machine or other voting device is in place, vote for the ballot initiatives and candidates of your choice.*****
* Also, be sure to look like an American. And remember, although it's not a crime to vote if you're a naturalized citizen who immigrated from another country, you are subject to intimidation by people who would rather people immigrated from a different country than you did, or would rather no one immigrated at all.
** Also, be sure your name isn't like the name of someone who has been convicted of a felony. In many states, voters are purged from the rolls based on roughly accurate lists of convicted felons, and occasionally, mistakes are made. I recommend carefully reviewing all felony convictions in your state several weeks prior to Election Day, so that you have time to legally change your name and re-register to vote to assure eligibility.
*** See above. It may be necessary to register repeatedly. For instance, in some counties I could name in California (where there's a "Motor-Voter" act that gives people the option of changing their voting registration when they change their addresses with the DMV), voter registration can only be guaranteed by registering more than once. But this could also make your vote ineligible, depending on (a) whether you vote, (b) how you vote, and (c) whether elections officials want you to vote.
Also, remember that in many states, it becomes more difficult to register to vote depending on how you intend to register and how much like an American you look. In some cases, choosing a different party or plastic surgery may be necessary.
**** Generally, these will be conveniently close to your home residence. Some people have received notice that their polling places have been moved, when in fact they have not. Some people have been told their polling places are closed, or that they will open late, or that they have run out of ballots or machines. In some polling places, there are very long lines as a result. During the 2004 elections, voters in several precincts in Ohio and elsewhere were unable to vote because of such factors. But you have to expect some inconvenience in a democracy.
***** Some touch-screen voting machines are known to create inaccurate records of votes. This is only a problem when you want to cast your vote for a particular candidate, and the machine changes it to a vote for another particular candidate. In many places, the machines also produce a paper record of your vote that you can check against your intended vote, which lets you know right away whether your vote was counted as you intended it. Other voting machines can apparently be broken open or hacked into in a couple minutes and altered to change all sorts of votes. No technology is foolproof. And there is no evidence to support the rumor that some Diebold machines are armed with touch-screen tasers.