Voting 101: Your Election Day Questions Answered

While the 2020 presidential election is still more than a year away, the primaries are in full swing! As voters study the candidates and prepare to cast votes for their favorite nominees, this is the perfect time to review voting do’s and don’ts, including US voting laws and the rules upheld at voting stations across the country.

What are the qualifications to vote in the US?

To legally vote in the United States, you must be:

  • A United States citizen
  • 18 years of age on or before election day
  • Registered to vote by your state’s voter registration deadline

You also must meet your state’s residency requirements. You can be homeless and still qualify to vote.

What can I wear to a polling station?

Proper attire is required at most polling places across the country, but defining what this means has come up for debate.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that a Minnesota law effectively banning all political apparel, including campaign buttons and name tags, from voting sites is too vague.  While the court did not specifically define what is or is not considered proper voting apparel, it concluded that Minnesota’s rule was not specific enough and too challenging to enforce.

 

 

 

Most states have laws that ban electioneering within a certain area of a polling station. These laws may include promoting your candidate or expressing your political views on clothing and accessories, like buttons and hats.

Rather than taking a chance that you may be turned away from the voting booths for wearing questionable clothing, it may be best to save your favorite political garb for that election night celebration.

Are cell phones allowed in polling stations?

Don’t snap that #IVoted selfie just yet!

Rules governing the use of smart phones, cameras, and other recording devices at voting stations are informal, at best. Varying from state to state and even precinct to precinct, state officials often are left to subjectively interpret outdated statues or to haphazardly enforce existing rules or adopted practices.

Often interpreted as a form of voter intimidation, it is best to tuck that recording device away while at the voting booth to avoid a frustrating confrontation with voting officials. In addition, many states have laws forbidding the sharing of your completed ballot with anyone, via photograph, through social media, or by any other means.

What is early voting?

Early voting allows registered voters to cast their votes prior to Election Day during a public election season in order to increase voter participation and decrease Election Day congestion at voting sites. Early voting rules differ from state to state, including some that require a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, while some states do not offer early voting at all.

What forms of ID are required to vote?

While voter ID laws vary by state, these laws have become a hotly contested, nationwide debate over the past several years. Advocates of voter ID laws argue that legally issued photo IDs are required to prevent voter fraud. Alternatively, opponents contend that these photo ID requirements disenfranchise minorities and others who are unable to acquire them.

All voting laws, however, require voters to provide at least one from of official identification before being allowed to register to vote, receive an election ballot, or to cast a vote in any US election.

If a voter’s identity cannot be immediately confirmed, he or she will receive a provisional ballot. This ballot will be counted after a voter’s identity is confirmed.

Is campaigning allowed at or near a polling station?

Generally speaking, electioneering, or campaigning for a specific candidate, political party, or political issue, is prohibited within a certain distance of every polling station. Review your state laws on electioneering boundaries for specific information.

What is absentee voting?

Absentee voting allows registered voters to request a mail-in ballot, rather than visiting a polling station, to cast a vote on Election Day. Each state has rules governing who is eligible to receive an absentee ballot.

How do I vote from abroad?

If you are a US citizen living overseas or are a member of the military or his or her family stationed outside your legal voting residence, and are a registered voter, you are eligible to vote by absentee ballot.

Each year, you must submit a completed Federal Postcard Application (FPCA) to election officials in the precinct where you are registered to vote AND request an absentee ballot. Remember to submit a new application every time your address, email, and/or name changes.

Once your local election officials have confirmed that you are eligible to vote, you will receive absentee ballots for each election held that calendar year electronically or by mail.

Voting With a Disability

There are numerous federal laws in place to protect the voting rights of Americans with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Every voter with a disability must have a wheelchair accessible voting booth furnished with voting equipment for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Further, some states allow people with disabilities to vote by mail or offer curbside voting, where an election official will bring everything needed to cast a ballot to that voter’s vehicle. Disabled voters also are allowed to get assistance from an election official familiar with using the handicap accessible voting machine or bring someone with them to help them vote.

 

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