Protecting your right to vote in the US

If you live in the United States, exercising your right to vote can be challenging, especially if you live in the South. This is likely to get worse, because some Voting Rights Act protections were recently struck down.

Things to know: 

If you are in line when the polls close, you have the right to vote. 

  • Stay in line. Do not leave without voting. 
  • (If you leave after the polls close, you probably won’t be able to get back in line.)

In most states, you need to register in order to vote:

  • Most states require you to register in advance. 
  • (Some states require you to register *months* in advance).
  • Some states allow same-day registration.
  • Some states allow same-day registration for presidential elections only.
  • You can check registration requirements on vote.org. 

Some states require voters to show ID:

  • Some states require IDs for registration.
  • Some states require you to show ID every time you vote.
  • Some states require first-time voters to show ID.
  • In most states, a lot of different things count as ID. 
  • (Eg: In some states, you can use a utility bill.)
  • Know in advance whether your state requires ID, and what kind of ID it requires.
  • If you have ID, bring it even if you’re not sure it’s required.
  • voteriders.org (and their hotline 844-338-8743) has good information on voter ID requirements.

Some states allow you to vote early:

  • If you can vote early, it’s a good idea to do so.
  • That way, if there’s a problem, you’re more likely to be able to solve it in time to vote.

You have the right to cast a provisional ballot if your eligibility to vote is questioned:

  • If you’re registered to vote but don’t appear on the polls at your polling place, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot.
  • If you don’t have ID, or your ID is not accepted, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot.
  • You may have to do something afterwards, like show ID to the elections office.
  • That said, it’s better to cast a regular ballot, because provisional ballots are frequently invalidated. 
  • If your right to vote is challenged, try to get help before casting a provisional ballot. 
  • http://www.866ourvote.org/issues/provisional-balloting

If your right to vote is challenged, there are people who can help:

  • The Election Protection Hotline 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
  • In major elections, Election Protection often also has in-person legal volunteers at the polls to help people protect their voting rights.
  • Your state probably has a voting rights organization, and you can probably find it by googling “voting rights [your state]”.
  • The candidate that you want to vote for may have a voting rights hotline on election day. 
  • If you face disability-related voting discrimination, your best bet might be your state’s disability rights organization, which you can often find by googling “disability rights [your state]” or “disability voting [your state]”.

Why you should vote even if an election isn’t close

Sometimes, it seems obvious who is going to win an election. Even in that kind of election, it’s still important to vote.

Your vote matters, even when your candidate loses. Voting sends a powerful message to politicians. Every vote against a politician tells them that some people dislike their policies, and that it is costing them votes. Politicians care about everything that costs them votes, because their jobs depend on continuing to win elections.

It matters who wins elections. It also matters how much they win by. The closer an election is, the more the winning politician has to care what the opposition thinks. Even in a state where one party is almost certainly going to win, there’s a big different between getting 90% of the votes and getting 40% of the votes.

When you vote against a politician, you’re sending a powerful message. It makes everything else you do more effective. It means they’re more likely to listen when you and others call them. It means they’re more likely to feel that they have to show up at town halls, and more likely to take what you say seriously. Voting creates leverage in ways that matter, even when you lose.

This is also true when your candidate is almost certainly going to win. Vote anyway, because it matters how much they win by — every vote they get gives them more power to enact their agenda. When they win by more votes, they don’t have to be as worried about the opposition. 

(And in any case, it’s inadvisable to get complacent. Sometimes elections are much closer than they seem.)

Your vote matters, even if your candidate loses. Your vote matters, even when your candidate is almost certainly going to win. It’s important to go vote when you’re eligible, even if it’s unlikely to change the results. Even when voting doesn’t change the outcome of the election, it does change the political facts on the ground.

Tl;dr Vote when you can, even in elections that aren’t close. It puts pressure on politicians in ways that matter. Whether or not your vote affects which politician wins, it will affect what the winning politician does.

Your election t-shirt may not be allowed inside the polls

Campaigning is not allowed inside polling places, or a certain distance from them. Once you are inside your polling place, no one is allowed to try to influence your vote — and you’re not allowed to try to influence anyone else’s vote inside the polling place either. This is a really strict rule, and it probably means that you won’t be allowed to wear a shirt or button with your candidate’s name/logo on it inside the polls.

The rules against campaigning inside a polling place are really strict in order to protect voters from intimidation. Voting is private, polls are private places, and there are a lot of rules and laws in place to protect them. You also can’t do things like pass out flyers, hold up signs, or answer questions about candidates inside the polls. Generally speaking, anything with a candidate or party’s name visible is likely to be seen as campaigning — including a button or t-shirt that you are wearing. (Or a candidate’s logo, or anything else obviously partisan.)  

Since people wear election shirts/buttons as a way to campaign for their candidates, they’re generally not allowed inside the polls. So, if you wear a candidate shirt/button to the polls on election day, you will most likely be asked to take it off or cover it up. If you’re planning to wear a pin, you can put it in your pocket or pin it to the inside of your shirt while you’re inside the polls. If you’re planning to wear a campaign t-shirt, bring something with you to cover it up with. The exact rules vary state-by-state, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

tl;dr Campaigning is not allowed inside polling places. Wearing a t-shirt with a candidate’s name or party’s name visible is likely to be considered campaigning, just like if you were holding up a sign for your candidate. If you’re planning to wear a campaign t-shirt or button on election day, be prepared to take it off or cover it up while you are actually voting.

Voting is especially important when the system is unfair

Politicians can, and do, sometimes manipulate the system in ways that makes elections somewhat unfair. That only goes so far. They can’t interfere with the secrecy of the ballot, and they can’t stuff the ballot boxes. They can’t actually rig elections.

What they can sometimes do is draw electoral districts favorable to them, or make it harder for groups likely to vote against them to vote. All of this unfairness can be defeated with high voter turnout.

Unfairness doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win. Unfairness means that it’s really, really important to vote.

In order to defeat unfairness, it’s important to know the laws in your state. It’s important to know which barriers may be in place to make it harder to vote, and how to insist on your right to vote anyway. And to make sure that others know how to insist on their rights. Unfair elections are not rigged elections. It is possible to vote in a way that matters.

For instance, many states have laws requiring voters to show identification. In most states, this doesn’t have to be a state-issued ID. Don’t assume that you can’t vote if you don’t have an ID. You can find out what the specific requirements are in your state, and make sure that others know them. It’s likely that you and others have, or can get, a form of ID that counts. Vote 411 has information about ID requirements, and other potential barriers. You can also find out about ID requirements from your state’s board of elections website.

Tl;dr Some elections are somewhat unfair, but they’re not rigged. One of the most common ways elections are made unfair is by tricking eligible voters out of voting. The more unfair an election is, the more important it is to exercise your right to vote — and to support others in exercising theirs.

What to expect on election day:

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

What’s the process of voting like when you go to your polling place?

realsocialskills said:

Generally it is something like this:

You go to your designated polling place. (Your polling place is assigned based on your address; in most states you have to go to that exact place and not another voting location.)

The polling place will likely be in either a school or a church.

At most times of day, there will be a long line. When you are done waiting in the line, you will check in. There will probably be a table staffed by election volunteers. They will check to make sure that you are on the list for that location. In some states, they will check your ID. They will then cross you off the list to prevent you from voting twice.

They will probably give you a small sticker with an American flag and the words “I voted”.

Once you are checked in, they will direct you to an available voting booth. The booth will have a curtain that you are supposed to close so that no one can see who you voted for.

Some people bring their children along to teach them about the importance of voting. It is considered acceptable to bring a child into the voting booth with you. It is not considered acceptable to bring along an adult, unless you have a disability and need physical assistance voting.

The exact process of voting depends on the state. Some states use various kinds of paper ballots. If your state uses paper ballots, you will mark your ballot in the booth and then bring it to a ballot box or ballot scanning machine. If your state uses voting machines, you will complete the voting process inside the booth.

Most ballots allow you to decide between voting a straight party ticket, or voting for individual candidates. If you vote the straight party ticket, that means you select the party you want to vote for, and automatically vote for all of their candidates. This is a good option if you know that you only want to vote for Democrats, or only want to vote for Republicans, and you’re worried that you might make a mistake in marking your ballot if you mark each candidate individually. (It’s generally not a useful option if you want to vote for third party candidates, since most of the races will only have Republican and Democratic candidates. It is likely to be a better idea to vote for your third party candidate in their race, then vote in all the other races for the candidates you prefer.)

You don’t have to vote in every race. For instance, if you only care who is running for Congress, you can leave the slots for mayor and school board blank.

Some states (eg: California) have ballot initiatives you can vote on. That means that the voters directly vote on some laws. Voting a straight party ticket doesn’t affect those issues one way or another; you vote on them individually.

Most counties have bond measures. That’s basically a vote on whether to raise taxes in order to fund something like a library or school expansion. Those are also things you vote on directly even if you voted the straight party ticket for candidates.

Campaigning isn’t allowed inside the polling place, or within a certain distance of the polling place. No campaigning means that no one is allowed to put up signs for candidates, or try to convince you to vote the way they want you to. At the polling place, they are required to leave you alone.

In practice, this means that campaigners will usually hang around as close to the polling places as it’s legal for them to be. There will probably be signs right at the border, and likely people in that area talking about candidates. It’s ok to talk to them if you want to; it’s also ok not to. They usually won’t be aggressive about bothering people; if they break the rules, they can be kicked out of the area.

When you leave the polling place (especially if you vote late in the day), there might be reporters (or high school civics students) hanging around nearby. They might ask you who you voted for. Reporters ask this because they want to predict who will win the election before the official results are announced.

The Voting Information Project can tell you where your polling place is and other information specific to your area.