The goal on Election Day is to ensure that every eligible voter is able to successfully cast their ballot. Here, theGrio identifies some of the most common problems that voters encounter at the polls and discuss solutions to help overcome the barriers.
Verify your polling place location
Verify the location of your polling place before venturing out on Election Day, especially if you are a first time voter. To verify your polling place, check your registration card or certificate, call your local election official or go to a polling place locator for your state.
Verify hours for voting in your state
Be sure to verify the hours when the polls will be open in your state. Polling place times vary throughout the country. Any voter standing in line at the time the polls close should be allowed to vote.
Verify your registration status
One of the biggest problems that voters encounter at the polls concerns problems with their registration status. When a voter’s name does not appear on the registration list, voters should not immediately abandon the effort to vote. Ask a poll worker to double-check any secondary or master list that may be available at the polling site, or call your local Registrar or other election official so that they can verify your status.
If necessary, take advantage of the right to cast a provisional ballot in federal elections
The Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, requires voters identified as ineligible, including those whose names do not appear on the registration list, be given the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot. If all efforts to verify your registration states have been exhausted and you insist that you are eligible to vote, you should be given the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, at minimum, for the federal contests that appear on the ballot (i.e. Congressional races).
Election officials will generally determine whether or not to count the provisional ballot after the election. Be sure to resolve any problems with your registration so that you will not encounter difficulty voting a regular ballot in future elections.
Provisional ballots provide an important safeguard for voters during elections. Approximately 1.9 million voters nationwide cast provisional ballots in the 2004 election of which 64.5 percent — were counted.
Verify the rules for identifying yourself at the polls
Only a few states, including Indiana and Georgia, have restrictive, mandatory photo identification requirements for voters. But the vast majority of other states allow voters to identify themselves through various means, including signature matching. If you encounter a problem at the polls, ask for written verification of the identification rules that apply in your state. Find out the various ways in which poll workers can confirm your identity. Report questionable efforts to challenge voters inside the polls
Some states allow individuals to challenge a voter’s right to cast a ballot inside the polling place. Recent reports about questionable ballot integrity programs raise concerns about the potential impact that these efforts might have on voters seeking to cast ballots on Election Day. Many of these programs claim to be committed to be combating vote fraud — a problem which does not exist. In the 2008 election cycle, a number of groups announced plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge voter eligibility — Lose Your Home, Lose Your Vote. Litigation helped shut many of these efforts down. Vigilance will be necessary again this election cycle to ensure that unreliable lists or questionable efforts are not used to challenge voter eligibility this election cycle.
If you encounter a problem, call 866-OUR-VOTE to report the issue and to help ensure that you are able to cast a ballot.
Report any voter suppression activity in your community
If you encounter voter suppression activity on or before Election Day, report the problem to local election officials or to a non-partisan election monitoring effort that may be underway in your community. Recent reports suggest that groups in some parts of the country, including Houston, Texas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Chicago, Illinois, intend to launch surveillance efforts outside polling sites on Election Day. In some states, rules may bar these individuals from being stationed too close to polling sites. Reporting the problem and documenting as much information as possible regarding the nature of the activity can be helpful in resolving the problem going forward.
Law enforcement personnel at the polls can also have an intimidating effect on voters. Watch for law enforcement officers who set up speed traps, check points or road blocks in close proximity to the polls. This activity should also be reported to local election officials or non-partisan election monitoring programs.
If necessary, verify the impact of a felony conviction on the right to vote
Nearly 5.3 million Americans will be denied their right to vote because of a prior conviction. Approximately 38 percent of these individuals are African-American. The rules regarding the impact of a felony conviction on the right to vote vary state by state. In some states, former felons can move to have their right to vote restored after completing any period of incarceration, probation or parole. In other states, former felons must seek a gubernatorial pardon to restore their voting eligibility. Regrettably, these laws have a significant impact on African-American and other minority voters. Former felons should verify the applicable rules in their state and, where possible, take necessary steps to have their voting rights restored.
Report problems with malfunctioning equipment at the polls
Since the 2000 presidential election, a number of states have taken aggressive steps to modernize and update their voting equipment. The Help America Vote Act requires states to replace punch card voting machines or lever voting systems with systems that meet more modern standards. Nevertheless, some problems have been reported in places that are adjusting to new systems used for the very first time. Voters should verify the accuracy of their ballot before leaving the polling place and immediately report problems to poll workers on site and local election officials.
Support non-partisan election monitoring efforts
Report problems you encounter or witness at the polls. Non-partisan election monitoring efforts such as the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in coalition with other national civil rights groups, is staffed by volunteer lawyers recruited from across the country who can help voters overcome obstacles they encounter on Election Day.
A number of organizations, including the NAACP, operate non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts to help achieve robust levels of turnout and participation on Election Day. Join a GOTV effort to help ensure that registered voters in your community make it to the polls in time to cast their ballots on Election Day. If you encounter an individual who is not yet registered in your community, encourage them to register to vote today.