Election 2016

What to Expect While Voting, a Short Guide

Voting may be a basic right, but it can be a complicated one to exercise.

By NIRAJ CHOKSHI | November 3, 2016 | SOURCE: New York Times

Rules vary by state and change with time. Even when they have not changed, voters may not know what they are.

“Here’s what confuses people: everything,” said Dan Diorio, an election policy specialist with the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, which represents and serves state legislators and their staffs.

“Every day, our front desk phone rings; our general mailbox gets a ton of new emails with folks looking for information,” he said.

About one in five voters do not know that they live in a state that requires photo identification to vote, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted just a few weeks ago. And voters in 14 states will face restrictions on Tuesday that were not in place during the last presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Generally, voting is a simple process. But, sometimes, questions arise. Here’s a brief guide on what to expect and how to prepare, based on interviews with election experts.

(Note: Election officials and their offices are the best authoritative source for information on voting procedure.)

Before you head out

Don’t count yourself out

Are you not registered? Have you been convicted of a felony? Don’t lose hope, you may still be able to vote.

Voter registration deadlines vary, but at least a dozen states and Washington, D.C., allow eligible residents to register on Election Day, according to information compiled by the federal website USA.gov. (North Dakotans need not bother — they live in the only state without voter registration.)

Many states ban those with felony convictions from casting a ballot, but the prohibition is not necessarily permanent: Some states restore the right in certain circumstances or after some time.

Citizens unsure of their eligibility can check with local officials directly or, in some cases, through their websites. To find out more, visit CanIVote.org, a service maintained by the nonpartisan National Association of Secretaries of State.

When and where to vote

In the vast majority of states, polling places open at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. and stay open for a dozen or more hours. (Check the resources below for exact hours by state and, in some cases, county.)

Lines are generally longest before and after work and during lunch hours, according to election officials, said Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State. Accordingly, voters hoping for a quick trip should try to head to the polls in the mid- to late morning or midafternoon, she said.

Several online tools can help voters find polling locations and hours. They include CanIVote.org, the League of Women Voters Education Fund’s Vote411.org and Get to the Polls, a service provided through a partnership between the Pew Charitable Trusts and a handful of major internet companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Most secretaries of state and some city and county election officials also provide the information on their websites.

What to bring

Voters should consider whether they need identification and whether they want to bring notes.

In 32 states, voters must provide a valid form of identification, a requirement that can often, but not always, be fulfilled with a passport or driver’s license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In the remaining 18 states and Washington, D.C., voters can instead prove their eligibility by providing some combination of a name, address, date of birth or signature.

While it isn’t necessary to vote, reviewing and even filling out a sample ballot may save time and confusion at the polls.

Vote411.org and Get to the Polls provide information voters can expect to see at the polls and local election officials can often even provide sample ballots similar to what voters will find at the voting booth.

Once you get there

A lot of last-minute campaigning

While many voters may encounter people advocating for a candidate or issue on the way to the polls, states have various laws limiting how close the campaigning can get.

“Everyone’s supposed to be able to show up and vote free from harassment and intimidation,” Ms. Stimson said.

Such restrictive zones, which are typically marked, range in size from a handful of feet to several hundred feet, typically from the entrance to the polling location, according to a roundup of state laws compiled by the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Whom you might expect to see

Poll workers and other residents casting ballots are not the only people voters can expect to see at their polling place.

Academic and foreign observers may be there to study how well the election is run, while partisan poll watchers may be reviewing sign-in sheets to know which supporters they still need to turn out, Mr. Diorio said. None, of course, should disrupt or try to influence the voting process.

There may also be authorized ”vote challengers” who can question a voter’s eligibility. Who may raise such objections — and what they may question — varies by state, as the National Association of Secretaries of State’s list of poll watcher and challenger laws shows.

Help is available

Voters who need assistance should ask for it.

“Election officials want to accommodate anybody’s needs in that line,” said Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Officials, she said, are equipped to deal with a range of issues and voters with disabilities or other needs should not hesitate to ask for accommodations.

States also have hotlines available to assist voters who have Election Day questions or want to report suspicious activity.

At the voting booth

Read the directions and review your ballot

It may sound obvious, but voters should carefully read instructions and always double-check their selections.

“Take the time you need to review your choices and cast the ballot the way you want it to be cast,” Ms. Underhill said.

Voters can ask for replacement ballots if they make a mistake and are not required to fill the whole thing out, she added.

“This isn’t a test — just vote what you know and are interested in,” she said.

Provisional voting

Voters may cast a “provisional ballot” even if their eligibility is in doubt, though they may be limited in where they can cast such a vote.

For more information, the National Conference of State Legislatures has a detailed briefing on the issue, and state and local election officials and websites should be able to answer any related questions.

Take selfies at your own risk

As proud as voters may be of casting a ballot, they should be cautious about sharing photos of the event. As Justin Timberlake found out last month, some states ban so-called “ballot selfies.”

According to a review by The Associated Press (and a recent court ruling in California), at least 19 states ban the practice. The laws in a dozen other states are not quite so clear.

The best bet? Follow the lead of Mr. Timberlake’s wife, Jessica Biel, and take a selfie with your “I voted” sticker instead.

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