Here's something scary: Even if you have the legal right to vote and have done everything to prepare yourself for Election Day, you could still be turned away at the polls.
In recent years, almost two dozen US states have implemented laws that impose new restrictions on voting, which critics say disproportionally affect minority voters.
The stricter laws stem from a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the approval of the Justice Department before states made any changes to their voting laws.
In the last five years at least 23 states have placed restrictions on voting by closing polling places, cutting early voting, purging ineligible voters from electoral rolls and imposing stricter voter ID laws, reports the federal Commission on Civil Rights.
With midterm elections around the corner and early voting already underway, it can be a tricky situation for thousands who are just looking to legally exercise their civic right as American citizens.
But no matter what unexpected issues you encounter at your polling place, there are ways to make sure your vote gets in safely. Here are some tips.
Know your state's registration deadline
First, it's time to confirm the basics: Your registration status and your polling location. A polling locator website can help you double check both of those.
If you're not registered, you should check your state's registration deadline requirement ASAP. While some registration deadlines have passed, 16 states allow for Election Day registration and other states have deadlines that stop short of November 6th.
Update your information
Some states have enacted extremely tight policies when it comes to voter information. Proponents of these policies say it's to curb voter fraud, but critics say it's an effort to suppress voters by calling out irrelevant, technical mismatches.
Georgia's "exact match" policy, for instance, requires your voter application to exactly mirror Social Security Administration data or the state's Department of Driver Services information. That means if there is ANY discrepancy between your names -- a shortened version of a name or a misspelling or different last name, you could run into issues.
Have you moved lately? Make sure your address is updated, as this is another discrepancy that could stop you from voting.
Check to see if you need an ID, and what kind
Did you know that not all states require an ID to vote? Just 34 request some form of identification, while the rest use methods like a signature. States have different laws on whether you need your ID with you or what kind of ID it should be, so be sure to look it up.
Even if your state doesn't require an ID to vote, it's best to bring one if you have one. Being over-prepared is just another layer of protection against voter suppression.
Remember that, most likely, you are LEGALLY ALLOWED to vote
What if you are told your registration didn't go through, or you don't have the required documents? Even if your registration is pending or your voter application has been wrongly purged, you are still allowed to vote.
According to the ACLU, if your qualifications are challenged, some states will have you sign a sworn statement that you satisfy your state's requirements and allow you to cast a regular ballot.
Or, if you did forget your ID at home or have been removed from the registration system, you can cast a provisional ballot -- a right all voters are entitled to by federal law.
However, you're going to need to be your biggest advocate when it comes to provisional ballots: These ballots are typically kept separately from all other ballots, so make sure to follow up with your local elected officials to confirm they have looked into your qualifications and have counted the vote.
When all else fails, insist
Speaking of being your biggest advocate, this is why doing your homework and arming yourself with legal knowledge is absolutely necessary. If you feel you are being illegally prevented from voting, you need to insist.
It could be a misunderstanding. Remember, poll workers may not be as as familiar with state and federal law and try to deny you your right to vote if your name is not in the system. Ask them to check surrounding registration systems for your name and insist on your right to sign an affidavit or cast a provisional ballot.
If you're aggressively being questioned about your right to cast a vote, you can calmly and clearly state you are exercising your legal right to vote. Report the behavior to other poll workers and peacefully communicate your intent. You should also report such incidents to election hotlines or local and state officials as voter intimidation. You have a few options:
- Call a state or local election hotline to report any problems you're having with the voting process.
- Call the Department of Justice voting rights hotline (1-800-253-3931) if you think your rights have been violated
You don't have to go alone
Here's something else you may not know: Any residents who can't see well, have a disability, or have trouble reading or writing or understanding English can bring someone with them to the polls. This can be a friend or relative, but can't be a boss or labor union representative.
Here's the bottom line: If you know your rights, know the law, do your homework and stand your ground, no one will be able to take away your vote.