Your vote always matters, but in a year without federal elections, such as this one, your vote carries special weight. That’s because voter turnout is likely to be relatively low. According to FairVote, mayors of major cities often are elected with single-digit turnout.
So, ensuring that your vote is cast and properly counted on Election Day is especially important. However, a spate of recent changes to state voting laws means you may encounter unanticipated obstacles. For instance, you might have to show a form of identification at the polls that you didn’t need previously. This year, alone, six states passed bills that either require proof of identity or restrict the kinds of ID you can use, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Supporters of such laws say they help to prevent voter fraud. Critics say that election fraud is rare and that young and minority voters are less likely to have the kind of ID required.
Pennsylvania is expected to be among the trouble spots this year. While courts review the constitutionality of its new voter ID law, poll workers are allowed to ask for photo identification. They just aren’t allowed to turn someone away who doesn’t have it, explains Denise Lieberman, a senior staff attorney with the Advancement Project. Knowing that distinction is crucial for Pennsylvania voters.
And in Texas, if the name on your photo ID doesn’t match the one on the voter rolls – a frequent problem for women who change their names when they get married – you must sign an affidavit asserting you are who you say you are, Lieberman says. The thing is, you have to know that option is available to you.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you understand everything that is required of you before you head to the polls. First: you must be registered, and you have to cast your ballot at the correct location. “In most places if you cast a ballot at the wrong location, a ballot is not going to count,” says Lieberman. If you did not receive a mailer with that information, check with your local or state board of elections. The League of Women Voters Education Fund also has a web site, Vote411.org, where you can look up information by topic and state.
If you still encounter problems when you get to your polling station, like being told you are not on the rolls, don’t let it stop you. “Voters need to know that you should never leave a polling place without casting some type of ballot,” says Lieberman. “Federal law ensures that all voters at least have the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if their eligibility cannot be confirmed immediately at the polling place.”
However, provisional ballots may not get counted, Lieberman warns. “It’s important for voters to assert their rights to [use] the regular ballot if they believe they are registered to vote.” You also have the right to speak to an election supervisor or a specialist poll worker if you are encountering problems with voting. You can reach out to the local board of elections if all else fails.
Lieberman also advises reaching out to Election Protection, of which her organization is a participant, if problems persist on Election Day. Their telephone hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, is administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We’ll have lawyers standing by to assist voters,” she says.