Avoid Election Day Disasters

As a service to any of our American cousins who may happen to read this on the relevant day:

Avoid Election Day Disaster

You'd think voting would be pretty easy. You're registered. So show up and vote, right? Not exactly.

There are a lot of little hurdles that could get in your way come Tuesday, so we've asked the Election Assistance Commission and the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition for tips to make your voting experience as smooth and easy as possible.


1. Check your registration
In most states*, if you aren't already registered, you can't vote. Even if you are registered, sometimes you may not be on the voter rolls because of a typographical error. Double check to make sure your name is in the system. If it's not, you may have to jump through some ID hurdles when you get to the polling place. The National Association of Secretaries of State website can direct you to the right place to check.

*If you live in one of the following states, you're in luck because the EAC says you have same-day registration: Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire and Wyoming. ID requirements vary by state, so check with your secretary of state to find out what you need to bring to register on-site.

2. Double-check your polling place. Know when it's open.
Even if you've been voting in the same school gymnasium for 10 years, double check the location of your polling place. You don't want to show up at the wrong one, wait in line for an hour, then get told you have to go somewhere else.

Both Election Protection and the National Association of Secretaries of State have websites that can help you find your polling place.

3. Plan plenty of time to wait
Try to head to your polling place at an off-peak hour if you can (mid-morning, early afternoon) and plan to be there for an hour or two. There has already been record turnout in early voting. No one has any reason to suspect Election Day is going to be slow, so you're probably going to be there for a while.


1. Bring your ID
Every state law is different and it may have changed since you last voted. Just because all you needed was a signature last time, that doesn't mean you don't need your driver's license this year. Check your local ID requirements at www.canivote.org.

2. Beware of what you wear

- Dress comfy! If you're standing in line for a bit, you'll want comfy shoes and a coat if it's cold.

- Keep the campaign paraphernalia in the car.
There are electioneering laws in some states that prevent you from entering a polling place if you are wearing campaign gear. We know you are excited about your candidate, but as Rosemary Rodriguez from the EAC said, "a polling place should be neutral and free of influence." In other words, don't campaign where people are trying to cast their votes.

If you want to play it safe, leave the buttons, signs and t-shirts in the car or at home. Or if you forgot and wore your t-shirt anyway, cover it up with a jacket or turn it inside out. You don't want sartorial choices stopping you from exercising your right to vote.

3. Beware of dirty tricks

If you see a sign that says, "Only one party votes on Tuesday, the other votes on Wednesday," ignore it. It's wrong. Everyone votes on Tuesday, November 4th (unless you voted early).

If it's raining and someone tells you the vote is postponed until clear weather, ignore them. Everyone votes on Tuesday.

You get the idea.

4. If something goes wrong, know your rights. Ask for help.

- I know I registered, but my name isn't on the voter rolls
If your name is not listed, request a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot allows you to vote and have your registration verified after you cast your ballot. How this process works varies by state and will probably require some follow-up by you. Poll workers are required by law to offer you a provisional ballot, so make sure you get it.

- I don't understand/can't read/can't work this ballot
We all remember what happened in 2000. A confusing layout -- the "butterfly ballot" -- had a lot of older voters casting their votes for a guy they didn't want to vote for. If you have a hard time reading, you can bring someone you trust into the booth with you. If you can't read the ballot and you are already in the booth, wave down a poll worker from the booth and ask for help. If you'd rather read the ballot in a language other than English, request one. Election officials are required to have ballots in other languages if a certain percentage of the population in that area speaks that language.

- I'm using an electronic voting machine and after I hit the screen, it says I'm voting for the other guy.
If you saw Homer try to vote on "The Simpsons" Halloween special, you know what this looks like. It's called a "vote slip." It happens when the touch screen on an electronic voting machine incorrectly registers your vote. In other words, you pushed the name on one side of the screen, but the machine tells you that you voted for someone else.

The EAC and Election Protection make the same recommendation here: Stay next to the booth and call for help. Do NOT leave the booth. Do NOT finish casting your ballot. Stacie Miller from Election Protection says that once you cast your ballot, the poll worker has no recourse. Rodriguez says the machine was probably calibrated wrong, so a poll worker needs to come fix it so you can try again. Do not be shy in this situation -- call out if you need assistance.

5. What if the polling worker couldn't help me?
Both the EAC and Election Protection will have Election Day hotlines with people waiting to help you at the other end of the phone.
Election Protection: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or visit the website: www.866ourvote.org
Election Assistance Commission: (866) 747-1471 or visit the website: www.eac.gov

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