Here's What To Know About Your Rights As A Voter
Don't give up at the first sign of trouble.
With Election Day 2022 upon the United States, voters are gearing up for what's predicted to be a set of tight races across the country, with seats in Congress, gubernatorial races, and more all up for grabs. While many people choose to vote by mail in recent years, many others prefer to wait and cast their ballot in person. But with the chance to cast your ballot coming down to the wire, it’s all the more important to get it right the first time. If you think your right to vote is being violated in any way as you try to cast your ballot, here are some voter resources you should keep in mind.
The term voter suppression refers to any strategy which discourages or prevents targeted groups of people from voting in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. In short, any measure that seeks to make it harder for an eligible voter to cast a ballot can be considered voter suppression. This can include purging voter rolls (which often happens without notifying the voter), implementing ID requirements, cutting early voting opportunities, relocating polling places, placing restrictions on student voters, and racial gerrymandering.
In most states, if a voter’s right to cast a ballot is in question, election officials and poll workers are required to tell people they have the right to use a provisional ballot. These ballots are put aside and counted later, once a voter’s eligibility has been confirmed. (Idaho, Minnesota, and New Hampshire do not offer provisional ballots, according to Ballotpedia.) They must give the voter the ballot, watch as the voter signs a written affirmation that they are a registered voter who is eligible to vote in the election, and then take the ballot for processing. They also must tell the voter how they can find out if the ballot was counted, and if not, why it was ultimately rejected. However, some states also require follow-up actions from voters to confirm their eligibility, so it’s best to double-check your local laws.
According to U.S. law, every eligible voter has the right to have a say in who represents them in the government. Before heading to the polls, know your rights, and make a voting plan following the requirements of your voting district. If there comes a time when you think your voting rights are being violated, there are some steps you can take.
Cast A Provisional Ballot If...
Your right to vote is challenged by a poll watcher or another official.
Federal law prohibits any kind of voter intimidation. However, poll watchers — individuals who’ve been pre-approved to watch the ballot-casting process to guard against any illegal voting — and local law enforcement are allowed to be at polling places, as long as they don't block pathways or prevent someone from casting a vote. The eligibility to apply to be a poll watcher varies from state to state. However, in some places, people casting early ballots in 2022 have reported incidents of voter intimidation, including being followed or filmed while voting, according to The Guardian.
Poll watchers can review the list of people who are registered to vote, and, in some states, poll watchers are able to challenge a voter's right to cast a ballot if they think the person is not a U.S. citizen, or is living outside the voting precinct. The poll watcher filing the challenge must do so in writing, with a form that contains an oath about their reasons for challenging the person’s right to vote. Once they’ve made the challenge and delivered it to a clerk or voting inspector, the person whose right to vote is being challenged will receive a copy of the oath. If the dispute cannot be resolved right away, you can still cast a provisional ballot, which you can get from your polling place and will be counted once your right to vote has been verified. (Although you should know some states don’t count provisional ballots cast at the wrong location.)
The poll worker says you're not on their list.
Even if you're not in the poll book, which is a record that holds voter register information, you can still fill out a provisional ballot. Once election officials confirm you are eligible to vote, they will need to count your ballot.
Before filling out a provisional ballot, the ACLU recommends you double check the spelling of your name, ask your poll worker if there's a secondary list of voters, and confirm you're at the correct polling place by checking their statewide system, or having the poll worker call the main election office. You can also call 1-866-OUR-VOTE yourself to get help.
If you are unable to get to your correct polling place or your name isn't in any of their records, request a provisional ballot.
The poll worker says your signature does not match their records.
Both for those voting by mail and those casting in-person ballots, it’s possible for eligibility to be challenged due to their signatures not matching up with the version that the board of elections has on file. As of 2022, 24 states require election officials to notify voters if there’s a signature discrepancy, and allow them to correct it.
If you’ve voted by mail, you can see if your state offers online tracking for your ballot, and check whether it’s been accepted. In Pennsylvania in 2022, several thousand mail-in ballots are at risk of being thrown out due to dating errors, according to NPR. While legal battles around the status of these ballots are ongoing, voters are encouraged to check with their local election office on whether their ballot has been accepted. Philadelphia and Allegheny counties have posted lists of voters who may have been affected. If you've been told your signature doesn’t match, you can request a provisional ballot from your polling place in the meantime.
Call The Election Protection Hotline If...
You are aggressively questioned by someone about your citizenship, qualifications to vote, or are told false requirements to vote.
The ACLU recommends reporting any types of voter intimidation to the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español). You can find a full list of hotlines by language here. You can also visit your state’s election office to report any instances of intimidation or misinformation. If the matter isn't resolved while you're at the polling place and you are able to, cast a provisional ballot.
They close your polling place while you're in line, and you aren’t allowed to vote.
If you’re in line to vote when your polling place closes, don't leave. You still have the right to vote if you were in line before the closing time. If anyone tries to make you leave or tries to keep you from voting, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or submit a complaint to the Department of Justice at 1-800-253-3931.
Your polling place is not accessible due to disability.
All polling places must be accessible to elderly voters and voters with disabilities. If it isn't, ask poll workers for curbside assistance and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report the accessibility issue. You should also notify poll workers if you have any difficulty using the voting system. (Each polling place must have at least one machine which lets voters with disabilities vote privately and independently).
If you need assistance filling out a ballot, you can bring a friend or family member. Both you and your companion will be required to swear under oath that you asked the person to help you vote and that your companion did not tell you how to vote. If you experience any issues with any of these things, call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE for assistance.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to cast a ballot in a language other than English. Per the federal 1975 amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain counties with significant minority populations are required to offer ballots that have been translated into other languages. However, even if you don’t live in one of these areas or don’t speak one of these languages, you still have the right to language help if you’re not comfortable with English. Anyone who doesn’t speak or read English “very well” can request the help of a friend or family member to assist them with filling out their ballot as long as their helper isn’t their employer or someone who works with them.
Remember: At the end of the day, voting is your right. And if you think you’re being denied your rights, there are ways to push back. Happy voting!
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