Voter protection information 2012

Fair and safe elections are a huge passion of mine, and even though there’s much more information out there for the average voter than there was 4 or 8 years ago, I’m still going to continue my tradition of posting some information about voter rights before the election.  Please share this post widely.

A disclaimer: I live in Philadelphia, and my information comes from Philadelphia sources.  I’ll do my best to distinguish between federal and PA information where applicable, but some local stuff might slip in where it doesn’t belong.


Most important: The phone number 866-OUR-VOTE.  It’s easy to memorize, but still, program it into your phone AND write it down.  If you have it written down, you can give it to people you meet while voting, if they need it.  866-OUR-VOTE is a nationwide hotline to report polling place problems, voter intimidation, poll workers or printed materials with incorrect information, polls not opening on time, or any other problems that can lead to violations of election law and/or voter disenfranchisement.  It’s also the number to call if you don’t know if you’re registered to vote, don’t know where your polling place is, or aren’t being permitted to vote where and when you think you should be.  (I’ll be volunteering with the Committee of Seventy, which answers 866-OUR-VOTE calls in the Philadelphia area.)

You have the right to a provisional ballot!  If you are not permitted to vote in the ordinary way (on the machine or with a regular paper ballot), because you’re not on the rolls or for any reason, and you believe that’s not correct, then in addition to calling 866-OUR-VOTE, you should ask for a provisional ballot.  By federal law, you must be provided one.  This is a ballot that will be counted later if it turns out you’re eligible.  Don’t pass up this opportunity!  If you leave the polling place without at least casting a provisional ballot, you’re giving up your chance to vote in this election, but if you fill out a provisional ballot, a judge can figure out the problem later and count your vote if it’s valid.  If you can’t get a provisional ballot when you ask for one, call 866-OUR-VOTE immediately.

In most states, you have the right to vote if you are in line to vote at the time the polls are supposed to close.  The polls will stay open until everyone who was in line at that time goes through and votes.  Don’t leave the line, or you won’t be able to vote!

And, of course, you have a right to vote without being harassed.  If you see any violence, any intimidation, or anything that may cause you or any voter to fear for their safety, call 866-OUR-VOTE immediately.  (If it’s an emergency situation, call 911 first, and then call the hotline.)


You have the right to vote without photo ID.  If this is the first time you’re voting ever, or the first time you’re voting in a new polling place after you moved, you need to show ID, but non-photo ID showing your address, such as a utility bill or the voter registration card you were mailed, is valid.  If you’ve voted at that location before, you don’t have to show anything.  Poll workers will ask you for photo ID, but you don’t have to show it.  If there’s a problem, you know who to call.

You have the right to a polling place free of campaigning and campaign paraphernalia.  No one is allowed to campaign or post information in the voting room or within 10 feet of it, and no one except a voter is even allowed to wear partisan clothing in that area.  (Other people are allowed to be in that area as long as they behave in a non-partisan manner, chiefly poll workers and state-registered poll watchers.)  If there’s a violation, 866-OUR-VOTE.

If you need assistance with voting, you have the right to assistance from the person of your choice.  Anyone but the judge of election, your boss, or your union boss can come into the voting booth to help you.  And if you don’t want assistance, you have the right to vote privately.

One more note about provisional ballots: If you end up at the wrong polling place in PA for any reason, and can’t make it to the place in PA where you’re registered, your provisional ballot will be counted for all things that are common to the ballot in your registered location and your current location.  That means your vote for president and senate will count if you are registered but vote provisionally somewhere else.  However, you are also permitted to vote on the machine one last time at your previous place of residence, if you’ve moved within the past 6 months and haven’t re-registered yet or didn’t re-register in time.  This is definitely preferable to voting provisionally at your new location.

And finally, thank you for voting!!!

Resources: [see what will be on your ballot] [PA voters: See where you’re registered] [Philly voters: Find your polling place]
[more to come, perhaps]