What to expect on election day:




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.

dinosaurusrachelus said:

Great info for in-person voting states! Three states - Washington, Oregon and Colorado - are vote-by-mail, which means your ballot is mailed to you and you fill it out and send it back. If you’re registered to vote but didn’t get a ballot, call your county elections office - usually run through the county auditor. They will probably have information about sending you a replacement ballot.

In Washington (not sure about the other two), your ballot comes with a security envelope and a mailing envelope. You’re supposed to put the ballot inside the security envelope, then put the security envelope inside the mailing envelope and seal it. However, if you forget the security envelope, your ballot will still be counted.

To verify that you voted, you’ll have to sign the outside envelope for your ballot. If you’re not able to sign (at least in WA), you can write an X and have two witnesses sign for you verifying that you are the person who filled the ballot out.

In any of these states, you can mail your ballot back through the U.S. Postal Service. If you do this, you’ll have to use a stamp, which costs about 50 cents.

If you don’t have a stamp or want to save the money, these states also have ballot drop-off locations. Usually, these are places like city or county government offices, libraries, post offices, etc. These places will have a designated ballot drop-off box where you can put your ballot for free, and it will be counted.

The county auditor in each state is responsible for overseeing elections, and their website will usually have a list of ballot drop box locations and other helpful information. Google “elections” and the name of your county or “county auditor” and the name of your county to find their site. If your area has a local newspaper, they may also have information about ballot drop locations on their website or Facebook page.

In Washington, your ballot needs to be postmarked by Election Day, which usually means you can put it in the mail the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 4 and it will be counted. (This is also why Washington elections are often undecided for a while after the actual election day - late ballots are still rolling in). If you’re using a ballot drop box, you can drop your ballot in the box up until 8 p.m. on election day.

In both Oregon and Colorado, your ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on election day. If you’re using a drop box, you can drop it off up until then. If you’re mailing it, you need to send it early enough that it will arrive by Election Day. Usually, the day before is enough time for this.

Election results are usually posted online shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. Your county auditor will have information about every race on your ballot, including local bond measures, school board races and that sort of thing. Your state’s Secretary of State website should have results for statewide issues, including initiatives (if your state has them), Congressional races, governor, etc. Local newspapers and TV stations usually report live on Election Night and will have results available online as well. And I’m a big fan of the New York Times website for an overall look at what’s happening with Congressional races (eg. which party is likely to have control of the Senate at the end of the night).

cocksucking-accent said:

Today’s the first time I’ve voted in the States (I’m from Spain, have voted by mail for Spain before and have been with my parents when they voted in Spain in person when I was younger). Here are two things that I found VERY different in DC from Spain:

1) People sitting out in front of my voting place, still giving out election stuff and introducing themselves. I was able to avoid most of them because there was no line to get in, but I was still halted by a couple. This is actually illegal in Spain: you can only campaign up ‘til midnight of the day before election day, so people have time to think through things. This was very stressful! If there is no line, I suggest walking on the opposite sidewalk and only crossing once you’re at the entrance of your voting place. If you have to wait, something like “no thank you” or “I already know who I’m voting for” may work, but this might also encourage the campaigners to talk more. I definitely suggest, when you leave, to cross the street as soon as you can so you can get away.

2) They didn’t take my ID, or even glance at it when I took it out (even though I was nervous and took my ID AND passport). They asked me to spell out my last and first name, tell them my year of birth, and sign a screen - all things a stranger could have known - even though I hesitated on all questions because I was focusing on eye contact. This was particularly remarkable to me because I’m aware of voter ID laws and how busted they are, and I wonder if the reason they didn’t look at my ID is that I’m white.