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Voting rights: What every American should know before they hit the polls

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Posted at 10:56 AM, Nov 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-03 14:55:30-05

Millions of Americans will head to the polls on Tuesday. Many will undoubtedly run into problems trying to cast their vote — be it long lines, language barriers, or intimidation tactics.

But remember, all Americans are afforded certain rights when they perform their civic duty — and it's vital that everyone know those rights to ensure every vote is counted.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, these rights are afforded to every voter.

Anyone who feels that their right to vote was infringed upon can call the Voter Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE. The hotline is run by Election Protection, a coalition of lawyer's groups dedicated to voting rights.

Voting logistics

It's not uncommon for polling stations to see long lines on Election Day. But as long as a voter gets in line before that polling station closes, they have the right to vote. Even if there are still hundreds of people ahead of you in line as the polls are closing, stay in line — you will still be allowed to vote.

Voters are also allowed to ask for a new ballot if they believe they've made a mistake. All voters should also be given the right to vote on a paper ballot if electronic machines are down.

Registration issues

Should a poll worker tell you that you are not listed on a list of registered voters, take the following steps:

  • Have the worker double-check the spelling of your name
  • Ask if there is a supplemental list of voters.
  • Confirm you are at the correct polling station. If not, ask where your assigned polling station is and how to get there.
  • If the poll worker cannot find your name, ask them to check a statewide system or contact your state's primary election office.

Anyone still having issues voting can also vote provisionally. That means a voter can even cast their ballot, but state officials will need to confirm the registration before it is counted. If and when the state guarantees that the voter is registered, the vote is counted.

In addition, many states allow voters to register on Eleciton Day. Those states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Voters who register the day of the election in Alaska and Rhode Island are only permitted to vote for President.

Rights for voters with disabilities

Federal law requires that all polling stations be fully accessible to all Americans, including those with disabilities. That law includes not just physical disabilities, but it also covers conditions like vision impairment and dyslexia. All polling stations should consist of at least one booth with a voting system that allows those with disabilities to vote privately and independently.

Those with disabilities that prevent them from communicating can also receive help from a person of their choice, so long as that person is not their employer, an "agent" of their employer, or an officer of their worker's union.

Finally, poll workers must provide "reasonable accommodations" and help voters with disabilities if they can. They cannot deny a voter with a mental disability the right to vote because they feel they are not qualified.

Voters with disabilities should also be comfortable asking poll workers if they feel they are unable to stand in line or have other physical limitations that would prevent them from voting.

Language barriers

Under the Voting Rights Act, individual counties are required to provide "bilingual assistance to voters in specific languages." Those counties are required to provide all election materials in those languages.

Voters who don't speak English can also bring a helper, as long as they are not an employer, an agent of their employer, or a member of their union.

Voter intimidation

It is illegal to intimidate, threaten or attempt to coerce a voter at a polling station, and anyone who does would be charged with a federal crime. Forms of intimidation may include:

  • Anyone who questions your citizenship or criminal record
  • Anyone that falsely identifies themselves as a poll worker
  • Anyone spreading misinformation at a polling station

Be sure to keep an eye out for familiar sources of misinformation at the polls.

  • Speaking or reading English is not a requirement to vote.
  • Voters do not need to pass a test to vote.
  • Some states do not require a photo ID to vote.

Anyone who believes they have been victims of voter intimidation can offer a sworn statement to a poll worker and then cast their ballot. Voters can also call the Voter Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE for help.