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10 Voting Laws Everyone Should Know

You have rights as a voter that are protected by federal law. Know these voting laws, know your rights, and you will be a well-informed citizen.

Photo by Parker Johnson

Does voting matter?

Yes.

Voting is among the most imperative acts of citizenship each one of us should perform, but that does not mean it is always a simple procedure. There are lots of things that can stand between Americans' most patriotic objectives and that ballot box.

The good news, however, is most of these impediments are prohibited under the state or federal laws and shouldn’t keep you from exercising your voting rights.

Remember your rights, especially voting laws that we, as Americans, should all keep imprinted in our minds.

Don't give in to threats or intimidation.

First and foremost, do not give in to threats or intimidation. It is unlawful under federal law for individuals to collude to “intimidate, threaten, oppress, or injure” others to convince them to vote a certain way, be it for the Vice President, a member of Congress during the midterm elections, or President during the presidential elections.

Historically, mainly before the civil rights period, we saw a lot of bullying at the polls in primarily African American neighborhoods. Even though cases of these violent tactics have become fundamentally nonexistent, we still hear of cases where individuals are discouraged from voting through aggravation—by individuals claiming to be poll observers who are overly hostile or with the inappropriate placement of law enforcement staff at polling stations.

One thing you should be on the lookout for is poll personnel who try to intimidate you by asking for more info than it’s legally required to vote. We’ve heard and seen of cases where poll staff ask for a voter's address to match the info in their poll book. Believe it or not, this goes outside the identity verification that any state necessitates.

Don't get shut out of the polling place.

It is illegal to get shut out of the polling place after waiting in line. At the moment, there is no definite law addressing how long is too long to wait in a voting line, but waits as long as eight hours and as short as an hour have been found by the supreme court to violate citizen rights.

Regardless of the length of the line, the point is polling places must allow you to votes as long as you were in the line before the closing time hit. So, if you are in the back of an extended line at 6:55 and there are still quite a few voters ahead of you when the polling place closes at 7:00 (if that is the official closing time at your location), no one can turn you away. And don't forget, if you're worried you won't make it in time on Election Day, certain states offer early voting—though this may vary down to the town, district, county, etc.

Know your voter ID laws.

Overzealous ID checks happen each and every year. So know what voting laws you have in respects to voter identification. 

These laws are put in place to prevent voter fraud and ensure registered voters cast their own respective ballot.

Voter ID laws require you to show any form of identification (passport or driver’s license) at the polling place before you can cast a vote. States lacking voter ID laws have lenient identification requirements, under which people can confirm their identity in different ways such as providing personal information like date of birth, address, or by signing an affidavit or poll book. This implies that voter ID laws differ widely from one state to another. The requirements may range from nothing to a utility bill to your state-issued ID. That's what's wrong with Voter ID laws: Inconsistency.

If you can’t produce the needed information, should you get sent away without casting a provisional ballot?

Well, state voter ID laws vary when it comes to what should happen to voters who cannot produce required identifications. States with stricter voter ID laws require individuals who do not have proper IDs to vote using a provisional ballot then take further steps after Election Day to make sure their votes have been counted. These steps may include returning to the polling place with the required ID.

States with less strict ID laws may let you vote if you sign an affidavit to confirm your identity or they may simply allow election officials to verify whether you were registered in which case you do not need to take any further action.

In any case, however, do not leave the polling place without casting a vote. Even if you have forgotten your whole wallet. Even if the poll staff tries to turn you away before you cast one.

All polling places should accommodate disabled individuals.

If you’re disabled, this next voting law is in place to protect you. Every polling place should be able to accommodate your disability. Polling places are required by state law and the federal government to ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

If your own polling station is not suitable (for instance, unable to accommodate wheelchairs), the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 necessitates election staff to ensure you have another alternate way to cast a ballot.

Some states allow curbside voting. This is where a polling staff will bring a ballot out to you in your car if you cannot make it inside. The law also requires the accessibility of voting aids for the elderly and disabled voters. Rule of thumb: Never be afraid to ask.

Voting laws may not restrict those convicted of felonies.

Even if you were convicted of a misdemeanor, a felony, or are currently in pretrial detention, you might be able to vote.

The United States voting laws state that you can register and vote if:

  • You are released on parole or on probation. This includes parolees living in a halfway house.
  • You are a pretrial detainee, and confined in a penal institution, waiting for your trial on charges of a misdemeanor or a felony.
  • You were previously convicted of a misdemeanor.
  • You got released or will get released by the next election’s date from a halfway house or a correctional facility.
  • Are under home confinement (house arrest).

If you doubt the voting machine counted your vote, do not hesitate to ask.

If you think or unsure whether the machine counted your vote, do not hesitate to ask a poll staff for help in making sure. In addition, ensure that you press the big “X” button at the bottom right corner after you make your selections in order to register your vote on the machine.

You will only be allowed to vote on an emergency paper ballot after a poll staff member determines that the voting machine is malfunctioning. All in all, the bottom line is do not leave until an official in charge has assured you that your vote has been recorded and counted.

Voting laws require language support.

The National Voting Rights Act requires all counties in the nation to provide assistance to individuals without, or limited, English proficiency. In the case where the population of voting age individuals who do not speak fluent English reaches 10,000 or five percent, then the county must offer voting information and all services in that specific language.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, these three counties have to provide voting assistance in Spanish:

  • Philadelphia County
  • Lehigh County
  • Berks County

In case the county does not have someone who can help you out, you can get help voting from anyone you bring along; provided the person in question is not a judge of the elections, your union representative, or your employer.

While at the polling place, a worker may ask you to sign a declaration that states you needed assistance casting the ballot.

What if your polling place is not accessible?

If you find out on the Election Day that your local election office is not accessible, contact your local clerk right away and ask them for an assignment to an alternative polling place that is accessible. United States voting laws state that you have the right to an accessible voting machine and polling place if where you originally register to vote is not accessible.

On Election Day, you may also send a staff member into the polling place to ask for curbside voting on your behalf. The poll staff will then bring you a paper ballot, similar to an absentee ballot, so you can cast your vote.

Any form of bribery is illegal.

The only item you should accept in exchange for casting a ballot is that cute little “I Voted” sticker, permitting you to show off to your coworkers that you executed your civic duty.

Even though the laws vary by state, typical regulations forbid anyone from giving you (lending, offering, or promising to lend or give you) anything in order to get you to vote, vote for a specific candidate(s), or to refrain from voting altogether.

You and anyone who bribes you may end paying up to $10,000 and spend more than five years in jail.

So, please, know your voting laws before you go perform your civic duty. It's important to vote, but it's even more important to know your voting rights.

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