If you’re living in the U.S, today’s Election Day. And it’s going to be crazy. Twenty-five percent of eligible voters have already turned in their ballots and just about every voting precinct is expecting record turnouts. That means long lines for voters, as well as a pretty high potential for something to go wrong. I’ve got a couple of tips for straightening out any problems you might run in to.
Keep an eye on the voting machines
Plenty of precincts have already reported problems with their voting machines. Last week, CNN reported on only a few examples:
“We’re having problems with the poll machines,” a voter in Jacksonville, Florida, told the CNN Voter Hotline. “They’re not aligned correctly, so you’re not sure about which candidate you’re voting for, so they said they brought in 10 new machines as backup machines, but they’ve corrected the issue.”
Even if your voting machine isn’t working, though, you still have the right to cast your ballot. If it incorrectly records your ballot, call an election judge over immediately. Depending on the state you’re voting in, you should be able to cast a paper ballot if there’s a problem with your voting machine. You may have to ask specifically for that paper ballot, though: overworked volunteer poll workers may not remember to offer it, unfortunately.
Take your driver’s license with you
If you’ve moved or changed your information in any way and have not updated your registration, you’ll still probably be able to vote. However, you’ll need to show your driver’s license (depending on precinct) in order to confirm your new information. The same goes if you’re an ‘inactive’ voter. If you haven’t voted in the past couple of years, you will probably have to confirm your status as a registered voter with an election judge. Depending on the circumstances, you may be asked to use a provisional ballot rather than a voting machine.
Plan for a wait
Most counties are advising voters that, no matter what time they’re planning to vote at, they should expect delays. The best time for voting is usually during the late morning or mid-afternoon — avoiding the times when those voters who have to be back to work by a certain time will be voting. If you fall into that category and are planning to vote during your lunch hour or before work, it might be worth letting your boss know that you might be a few minutes (or hours behind).
Get in before polls close
In most precincts, as long as you are inside the polling place and in line before the polls close, you will still be able to vote no matter what time you actually get a ballot. If your polling place is running behind, you don’t need to worry about your vote being counted as long as you’re actually in the polling place before the end of voting hours, no matter what urban myths to the contrary state.
Double check your polling place ahead of time
Even if you have a voter registration card, go ahead and double check your voting location. I work as an election judge, and during the primary we had to send a lot of voters to a different polling place because of a precinct change. There was even one family who wound up driving to three different polling places because of such a mix up. Google has a pretty reliable map that will locate your polling place based on your address, but if you’re at all unsure you can call your county’s board of elections for confirmation.
Check on your polling place’s wait
A new site, Twitter Vote Report, is coordinating reports of waits and problems at polling places across the country. You can check their website before heading to vote to see if anyone’s Twittered from your polling place. You can also add your own comments through Twitter, the site’s iPhone app, a text message or a good old-fashioned phone call. Check out Twitter Vote Report for more information.
Know what’s allowed in the polling place
There are a couple of things that can actually get you thrown out of a polling place. While you can wear clothing, pins, etc. that promote one candidate or the other, you can’t ‘electioneer’ in the polling place. You can’t promote a candidate verbally to other voters. Most precincts are pretty serious about enforcing this rule. This year, I expect most precincts to handle electioneering — or really any hanging around of any kind — pretty severely. If you’ve already voted, you’ll be asked to leave immediately. In part, this year, it will be an issue of poll workers trying to keep the lines moving.
Read up on your choices
Odds are good that you already have a sample ballot, listing out everything from the Presidential candidates down to the local school board. I don’t know about you, but there’s a couple of candidates on my ballot who’s names I had never heard of before finding them in the running for a local election. There won’t be any other information on these candidates in your voting booth — so it’s worth your while to at least Google each of those names and try to make up your mind ahead of time.
Be nice to your poll workers
I’m an election judge. We may only work one or two days every couple of years, but trust me when I say that those can be the hardest days you can imagine. I promise that we aren’t out to change the results of the election, make it impossible for you to vote or anything like that, so please, give us the benefit of the doubt if something goes wrong.