Get Out The Vote
You already know that it’s important to vote. It’s vital to our democracy, but did you know that you can improve your voting experience? Keep reading for some tips for voting in any election in the United States. Please verify all local laws before going to your polling location.
Although voting seems straightforward to many people, I noticed that there are some things my friends or family members were not aware of that could make their experience easier and safer. About 60 million Americans have already decided their future president and representatives – whether in person or by sending off their paper ballots.
If you’re voting for the first time or always exercise your right as a citizen, I’ve put together a list of things you should consider when voting in an election.
Continue reading below or jump to a category:
Do Your Research
The choice of our future president is important, but in many places around the United States, voters are deciding their next Senator, Congressperson, and the outcomes of local issues.
Take Florida as an example, where people are voting on six separate amendments to the state constitution. These are just as important as selecting a president.
Google “what’s on my ballot [county and state]” or look up your state’s Supervisor/Board of Elections. You should be able to preview your ballot based on address. There are also sites such as Vote411.org (https://www.vote411.org/ballot) and Ballotpedia.org, which look up your ballot and can provide a “voter guide” as well. If you’re interested in who a specific party, union or other group has endorsed, you should look up their voter guide as well.
Bring Your Notes
Did you look at your ballot and notice that there are a whole lot of names to remember? Good news – according to USA.GOV (official site of the United Sates government), you can bring “notes, a voter’s guide, or a sample ballot in the voting booth.” Remember to stick to paper copies and not notes on your phone. If you found a sample ballot online, print it out and take it with you. Although this is legal in all states, please check your local county or state laws before voting.
This is simple but no one I’ve mentioned it to has done this before. Make your life easier!
Track Your Ballot
Yes, it’s too late to mail your ballot (as of one week before Election Day). Many experts say that USPS sorting and delivery could be delayed. Some states start counting ballots as they are received, while others do not. Using a drop box or voting in person close to or before election day will make your local poll workers life easier.
Do a search for your county’s ballot drop boxes and find the most convenient one. I dropped off my ballot in the last primary and it was easy. The line for early voters and ballots was different, there was a volunteer who checked my ID and signature, she put my ballot in the designated box, while I stayed in my car.
If you mailed it or dropped it in a box, please remember to check the status of your ballot before election day. This way you can ensure it was received and that your state accepted your signature identification. This MUST be done before the end of voting. Please check your local laws about how to fix any issues and the exact deadline to do so.
Be Smart at the Polls
There are a lot of points that fall under this category. Hopefully this helps your voting experience easier as well.
First, if you have a mail in ballot but decided not to use it, just walk into your polling location and hand it back. They will mark it as returned and you can vote as usual. If you lose it or throw it away, you should still be able to vote but bringing your ballot back prevents any mistakes from happening. Each state has different laws regarding how to return an unused ballot.
ProPublica has a great explanation of what you should expect if you go this route and return an unused ballot. I have done so in the past in Florida without any issues. Your state’s ballot tracking system should note that it was unused.
The details differ from state to state. In some, you’ll be allowed to cast a regular ballot, and in others you’ll cast a “provisional” ballot, to be counted once election officials determine you haven’t already voted.
Secondly, be aware that you can receive help at the polls, for example if you have a disability or need translation. Let the poll worker know you will need assistance at check-in. If someone is coming inside with you, they might be asked to sign a form.
What if you are waiting in line all night and the polling location is scheduled to close? Well, if you were already in line, they can’t refuse you and you should be allowed to vote.
Made a mistake in filling out your ballot? Don’t be embarrassed – you have a right to ask for a new ballot and start over. Your vote counts!
Also, some other things to look into:
- Laws against photos: Many (but not all) states have laws against taking selfies or photos of your ballot.
- Political gear: Check your state’s laws on political gear, shirts, hats, etc. Only some states ban or enforce these things but it’s better to be safe than sorry in this case.
Helpful hotlines for voting issues and information
Americans with Disabilities Act: 800-253-3931
A non-partisan Election Protection Hotline – contact them if you have an problems voting or anyone prevents you from doing so:
1-866-OUR-VOTE (English) or 866ourvote.org
(Also, Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA / 1-888-839-8682; Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US / 1-844-925-5287; For Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese: 1-888-274-8683).