What do you do next? Now, most of my readers are probably not first time voters, so bear with me folks. If you are, or know someone who is, feel free to pass this post around. With only a week until election day, I think it would be good to go over some basics about voting.
First, if you haven't registered, and registration is still open where you live - do it now! Go directly to your town hall and do it, otherwise you may not be registered in time.s
First and foremost
You should verify that your registration has gone through. If you haven't received a letter of verification, stating that you are registered, in your town, and telling you which polling place you need to vote in, call your registrar office and double check. Better yet, go in, and get a letter of verification. Make sure you know which polling place you can vote in, and the hours it will be open. Usually it's open at 6am until 8pm, but you should double check.
What you'll need on election day
When you go into the polls you will need to verify your identity. The best way to do that is to make sure you have your ID on you. The best ID is a driver's license, military ID or state ID. If you don't have any of those, you can use a combination of items, such as your social security card, birth certificate, utility bill if it's your account showing your address and name, photo ID such as a college ID, or wholesale card with your photo or a card with your name on it, that is embossed, like a credit card.
If you are disabled, or English isn't your first language, and you think you will need assistance, you can bring someone with you! It is perfectly legal for someone to help you in the voting booth as long as:
It is not your employer or religious leader, or a candidate or political figure and they do not cast the vote for you. They can help you understand the ballot, see where the bubbles or selection is, translate for you, help you stand, etc...Election officials in the polling place CAN help you.
Also, polling places have special booths for the physically disabled, ask for one if you need it.
You can also bring your children along with you, but they cannot cast the vote for you.
When you should go
This election is going to be a rather busy one. Trying to go on your lunch break is going to be a nightmare. Plan to go during an "off time". The busiest times at polling places tend to be early in the am (6-8), late at night(8), lunch hour (between 11 and 1) and dinner time, or around 5 or 6 pm. Try to get there before or after these times, and your wait will be decreased.
If you already know that you will not make it to the polls on time you should go to your town hall right now, and cast an absentee ballot. They will open and count it in central counting (at the registrar's office) on election day.
When you get there
You will be "challenged" or asked for your address and name, with ID. you will show this to the challenger or checker. They will then check you off the list, and ask you to move either to the ballot clerk, who will issue you a paper ballot and a folder for privacy, or you will go directly into line to use a machine, depending on the system your polling place uses.
You will cast your vote, and exit through the approved exit (not the same door you came in). You'll get a sticker, and go on with your day.
Possible problems you could encounter
When you go into the polling place there are a few problems you could encounter.
1) You are not on the master list. If you've just registered, or haven't voted in the last four years, moved recently, or made any changes like that, your name could have been removed from the master list of registered voters.
It may be on the inactive list, in which case, you will have to sign some paperwork, you will be reinstated, and you will be able to vote.
It may be a misspelling of your name, or street address. Give alternate spellings, and show your ID. If it is a simple mistake, you will be allowed to vote.
You may not have been added to the master list in time for the election. The Assistant registrar or moderator will verify your eligibility to vote with the registrars, your name will be added to the list to be checked off, and you will be allowed to vote. This is why you should have your verification letter on hand - it will speed up the process.
You may not be in the system at all. If so, that means you did not register in time, or the place where you registered did not send your information in time. You will NOT be eligible to vote if that is the case. This is why I advise people to register directly in their town hall.
2) Your vote is challenged.
When you go into your polling place, and present your information, someone there can challenge your ability to vote. Usually for three reasons: Your identity (you are not who you say you are), your address (you no longer live in that district), or your legal ability to vote due to prison sentences, or probation. Each state has different laws regarding criminal's and convicted felon's eligibility to vote. (Be sure you have on you documentation of your eligibility to vote in case someone challenges you about that.)
When your vote is challenged you have the opportunity to prove that you are who you say you are (ID) live where you say you live (Verification, witnesses), or have documentation of your eligibility to vote. If you do, you will be allowed to vote.
If you don't, can't or refuse to provide proof, you will cast a "challenged ballot". This ballot does not go into the machine, and is not counted until eligibility is verified. In my state, the law has changed so that challenged ballots will not be counted. So be sure you can prove that you can vote.
Each state has different voting systems. Some are computers, others are paper ballots with tabulators, and some may even still have the old lever voting booth. Whatever type your polling place offers, be SURE to look over the demonstration, and ask for a tutorial before trying to vote.
If you are using the paper ballot and tabulator kind, you MUST fill in the bubble next to the candidate's name who you wish to vote for. Circling the candidate's name, making an x in the box, or any other mark can render the vote invalid. The machine only reads what is in the bubble, so if you accidentally mark the wrong bubble you must call for assistance, and the moderator or assistant registrar will "spoil" your ballot, and give you a new one. Be sure to mark only bubbles next to the names you wish to vote for, and do not over vote in each section. Otherwise your ballot will be rendered invalid.
Do not bend, fold, or get the ballot wet.
DO make sure that you vote goes into the tabulator fully (without forcing it) and that it has counted your vote before you leave. If you leave and the machine spits it out, you will not have a chance to fix whatever mistake was made, and your vote may not be counted. It only takes a second or two.
If you have computer voting - I don't know how it works specifically, but do make sure you pay attention to which selection you make, and touch the screen gently so you do not accidentally select a candidate you didn't want to vote for.
If you still have the old lever booths: you walk into the booth, and pull the big lever at the bottom from left to right. That will close the curtain, and set the levers so that you can vote. You choose the candidate you want, and flick the lever down, so that you can see the arrow showing, and LEAVE IT like that! The lever booths will not let you over vote, so if you try to choose two candidates where you can only vote for one, the other lever will not go down. If you've made a mistake, and flicked the wrong lever, you can push it back up, and select a different one.
You leave your chosen levers down, and pull that giant lever at the bottom from right to left, the curtain will open, and your vote will be counted.
If you have paper ballots - just make sure you get the punch in the right spot, the mark is clearly for your candidate, and you take your time!!
Then you're done!
Awesome, you've voted!
Odds and ends, voting laws
There are some voting laws that will need to be addressed. Don't wear paraphernalia or bring pamphlets supporting your candidate into the polling place. In many places this is illegal, and you will be asked to remove it or leave, in other places it's just bad etiquette.
Campaigning folks and unofficial checkers - campaigning parties generally cannot come within a specific footage of the polling place to prevent coercion. Unofficial checkers are in the polling place, and they work for their party. They have NO authority there, and are under direct control of the moderator. If they harass or intimidate you you, inform the moderator right away. She or he will have them removed from the premises if necessary.
Don't cause a ruckus, or you will be escorted off the premise by police. If you are frustrated, stay calm, and work with the election officials.
Children are OK to bring into the polling place, but they must be tended to by an adult. They can't run around, or play basketball behind the privacy booths.
At 8PM, the polling place closes. Anyone in line before 8pm sharp will be able to vote. But at 8 pm, an election official will be positioned at the end of the line, and will not allow anyone else in line to vote.
So get there before 8.
Now, go! vote!