The Elephant in the Room

Just one week away from Election Day, and we find ourselves in deep voting drama poo. But we can’t let you go out like that, so here’s your checklist of things to do (and to look for) to make sure your vote counts next Tuesday (yes, it’s still Tuesday, even if it rains; don’t fall for that one).

1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The one thing we ALL need to do is triple-check our registration status and polling place (and our mama’s, and our daddy’s, and…). Do both in a few seconds at Right now. I’ll wait. Done? Now print that out and take it with you on voting day, just in case.

2. Just say no to Straight Ticket Voting AKA Straight Party Voting. In 15 states (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin), voters have the option to touch one button (pull one lever, punch one hole, whatever) to vote for everyone in their party who is running for any position in their precinct. The problem is, new systems are often leaving the presidential vote off the straight ticket vote, so folks who go the easy route may not actually be casting a vote in the biggest race of them all. The solution? Take the extra minute and vote for each candidate individually, you lazy bastard.

3. Watch out for sucky electronic voting machines. Voters in West Virginia have reported that when they touched the screen to vote for Democratic candidates, their vote was switched in favor of the opponent. What should you do if it happens to you? First, be patient; workers in West Virginia claim that if you select your candidate twice, you will actually de-select him. So touch the screen once and give it a second to work. No luck? Call over the poll worker and make her fix it. DO NOT leave the polling place until the problem is handled. If they try to force you to move on, demand that the machine be taken out of service, write down the machine’s serial number, exact time of day and precinct location and whip out your cell phone and call the Election Protection Coalition (1-866-OUR-VOTE) and your state Board of Elections (click here for the number).

4. Speaking of not leaving until the drama is fixed, avoid provisional ballots when at all possible. First, a quick definition: a provisional ballot is used to record your vote if your name doesn’t appear on the rolls, poll workers are challenging your eligibility, you’re at the wrong polling place, or you don’t have the proper identification. They are also used whenever polling hours are extended. If you have to use one, the State Board of Elections will decide if your vote counts after the election. But in the 2004 election, only 65% of provisional ballots were counted, due to human error and inconsistent counting methods (for example, 27 states don’t count ballots cast in the wrong precinct). Don’t get caught in that trap: Vote early in the day (or just plain early if you live in one of the 36 states that allow it; check here). And if your eligibility is questioned, whip out your printout from #1 above; call your BOE or the Election Protection Coalition, go to the correct polling place if you messed up, go grab adequate ID, whatever it takes. Only use a provisional ballot when absolutely necessary.

5. Take proper ID. The definition of “proper” varies widely by state. In New York, you need only have your signature verified, while in Indiana, you must present an unexpired state- or U.S.-issued ID that lists your name precisely the way it appears on the polls. Some places require that the listed address matches the address where you’re registered, and Arizona even requires voters to bring proof of citizenship! And if you’re a first time-voter, you will be required to show ID no matter where you’re registered. It’s important to know what ID you need to take to the polls in your state. Find out here.

6. Assorted drama to watch for: -In a few states (including Georgia and Indiana) the absentee ballots sent out were faulty. Check with your BOE to be sure your absentee ballot is valid and can be scanned. -Voters in Nevada have reported receiving calls from people claiming to be Obama campaign volunteers, asking them to vote over the phone. If their info came up on your caller ID, call the Election Protection Coalition with the info. -If you’re from Ohio and you voted early or absentee using same-day registration, your vote is currently being challenged. Check with your BOE to see if it will count. -If your (or your parents’) home has been foreclosed on since your registered, the NAACP has been working overtime to successfully secure your right to vote using your old address.

Know of other issues folks should know about? Let us know below. And remember, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make this election go smoothly, so be a snitch if you see something wrong. Here’s a great list of general things to watch for. Happy voting!


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.

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