Just got back from Voter Protection Training!
It went really well! We do it in odd election years before the primaries because there are historically a lot of shenanigans regarding people crossfiling to get in primaries for parties not their own and we tend to have election observers for the different candidates in place, but there was a lot of general purpose information I want to generally make sure everyone knows.
Polling Place Dos and Don’ts: Campaigning
- Candidate Behavior in Polling Places: Candidates can enter, vote and leave. They cannot hang around inside to say “hi” to voters, even if it’s stuff that’s not technically partisan like “I just want to thank you for voting today!” Vote and get out.
- Not a candidate? You still literally shouldn’t even speak a candidate’s name while inside the polling place. This extends to the poll workers - if you forget a candidate’s name and ask the poll worker what it is, they actually should not even tell you that much. If you ever see a poll worker suggesting a specific candidate or seeming to promote a candidate, it is a violation and should be reported.
- Along similar lines: do not wear candidate paraphernalia inside. No buttons, no shirts, no hats, no weird fun themed socks. This is a bit of a gray area but generally speaking, err on the side of caution and don’t.
- Pamphlets should be handed out outside the polls, not inside. Rules vary by state, but generally you can’t hand out literature for a candidate inside the polls or within a certain perimeter of the entrance. I’ve seen some argument back and forth as to what counts as the “entrance” if you have two sets of doors, with an outer one to the building and an inner one, but I’ve absolutely reported people for being inside the polling building and seen them dutifully standing outside afterwards, so generally assume they should not be in the building.
- NO ONE CAN BLOCK VOTERS FROM ENTERING OR INTIMIDATE VOTERS, INCLUDING GETTING IN THEIR PATH OR DEMANDING IDENTIFICATION OUTSIDE THE POLLS.
- I want to really emphasize that last point - if you are in a voter ID state, your ID will be checked INSIDE. If you are asked for your ID outside the poll, that is a violation and those people do not have legitimate authority.
- If someone is intimidating or harassing voters, including demanding to see ID, report them. Additionally - AS LONG AS YOU ARE OUTSIDE THE POLLING PLACE - get them on video on your phone if possible. Post the video to social media, but also post it to your local news station’s Facebook page. That having been said, be veeeery cautious about doing this inside a polling place - there are definitely rules in some states about recording inside a polling place. I’m afraid I can’t give general advice for this situation.
- If you are unable to get into your polling place due to accessibility issues, that is also a violation. Report it, same as above.
Reporting Violations: See Something? Say Something!
- Spot violations? Report them ASAP so they can be stopped before the day is out. They might get one or two voters, unfortunately, but don’t let them scare people away all day! They can be blatant about this type of thing, too - we had a story in tonight’s training about a district where, for years, Latinx voters were turned away at the door and told that “Latinos don’t vote here.” It was finally uncovered three years later when a phone banker calling for a local candidate spoke with a Latina woman who asked “Will I be able to vote this year?” and “I haven’t been able to vote these past few years, do Latinos vote somewhere else?” This was uncovered in 2012. Keep a sharp eye out.
- Generally speaking, each polling place should have a Judge of Elections - if anything is wrong, go to them first. Ask a poll worker until you get to speak to them.
- Is the Judge of Elections complicit or not cooperating? Then go over to their head to the County Board of Elections. This information, obviously, varies by County, but I suggest googling it for your County and putting it into your phone’s address book.
866-OUR-VOTE also does voter protection services, but their reactions may be slower, so go to them only after the above steps.
- Phone issues/phone anxiety/etc.? There may also be places to report online! As I was informed, state sites are often more reliable for that then county, but please try to file a report on both.
- But the most important thing of all? Report A.S.A.P. The day after the election might stop them from pulling a repeat act next year, but who knows how many voters they’ll be able to stop before then? Don’t let these clowns operate all day!
- Finally, just as a note if you do see someone actively intimidating voters: record and report, but do not engage. However, you can offer to escort voters inside if they’re being intimidated!
- If you see someone being intimidated, encourage them to come forward - if you’re being intimidated, PLEASE come forward. Reporting when it happens the only way to nip this kind of thing in the bud. Without people coming forward and reporting, we get Latinx people being turned away from a polling place for three entire years before someone actually alerts the authorities because apparently no one posted a competent election watcher in that entire frigging time.
- (I’m still so mad about that story - just oh my god.)
Trouble With Voting? Name Not on the Roll? No Voter ID?
- Again, can’t emphasize this enough: If you have any trouble voting, flag down the judge of elections if you need help, then call your county board of elections if that fails or the judge is complicit in the problem.
- Is your name not on the rolls? If all they’ve done is flip the book open to your alphabetical spot, they have not done their due diligence. Voter registration can be slow: sometimes, voter registrations will be sent in as “supplementals” to the book, depending on when they arrive. Have them check back of book for the supplementals first.
- Still can’t find your name? Are you reasonably sure you’re in the right place and have registered? Better yet, is the online voter registration checker telling you you’re registered? Have the Judge of Elections call the county board of elections to see if you’ve been registered but not yet entered in the book yet!
- Also, live in a Voter ID state? Check to make sure of the requirements! Some states only require voter ID if it’s your first time voting in that polling place. The exact form of acceptable ID may vary but your driver’s license should always be enough. If they’re telling you it isn’t, they are lying. Report it.
- And if all else fails? ENTER A PROVISIONAL BALLOT. If you can prove after the fact that you’re eligible to vote at that polling place - say, if you forgot your voter ID - you can still have your vote counted!
- You may never be denied a provisional ballot, ever. If someone tells you they’ve run out of provisional ballots they are ALMOST CERTAINLY LYING - they have a truly absurd amount of those on hand and can call for more. If someone tells you this, call the board of elections and tell them “Hey, [x voting place] is out of provisional ballots.” That’ll be resolved real quick then.
- In fact, was there a mixup about your polling place? Whenever possible, you should always get to your actual voting place, but if you can’t make it in time to vote there, try filing a provisional ballot at the polling place where you currently are! It may be counted for your proper polling place later! Basically only do this if you physically cannot get to your polling place before the polls close, though.
- If you or someone else needs translation services, they are legally entitled to them; however, the translator does need to be certified, generally; you can’t just bring a friend or family member in to translate in the booth.
Poll Watcher and Worker Responsibilities
- Poll watchers are usually registered for a certain candidate. I’m not sure if this is true for all states but in at least some there is a limit to number of poll watchers per candidate. Sometimes they’ll let a generic political party have a poll watcher (E.G., ‘Poll watcher for the Democratic Party’, etc.), but it’s rare and may be thrown out, so don’t count on it if you have another option.
- Poll watchers need to be registered and approved. You can’t just show up and ‘poll watch’. If someone is claiming to be a poll watcher without official papers, report them. If someone is trying to ‘poll watch’ inside the polls without official papers, definitely report them.
- What can poll watchers do? Well, for starters, they can check before polls open that numbers are at zero! After that, their job is to sit at table and watch.
- Do NOT tell any voters what candidate you are pollwatching for. That is a violation. See that thing about “literally do not speak a candidate’s name inside of a polling place” above.
- Poll watchers can also watch the votes being counted and can even watch as the write-ins and absentee ballots are counted.
- Aside from the Judge of Elections, poll workers, and poll watchers, polling places may also have an inspector for each party. Poll staff can be elected or appointed, depending on the position - if your polling place doesn’t have anyone from your party, you can tell the judge of elections you’re interested in volunteering. HOWEVER, you’re there from before it opens to after the last vote is counted, so make sure you’re up for that because that is a loooong day.
- Finally, just as a general note: Exit pollers can ask you how you voted, but you can refuse to answer - no one can force you to answer how you voted.
And that’s my absurdly long voter protection spiel! There’s a lot of other voting rights stuff to know in terms of registration, felon registration rights (varies by state!), homeless registration rights (I know in at least some states you can register even if you’re homeless and just need to circle the area you’re usually in on a map in order to register, but that may not be universal), but we just covered stuff at the polls themselves here.
Now, get out there and vote! Every year has at least a primary and a general election, plus sometimes special elections - please don’t just turn out for Presidential elections!