Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting advice

Here's my advice for everyone going to the polls tomorrow. Some of it is adapted from my article in the September issue about how to protect your vote, "In Case of Election Emergency, Break Glass." Some of it is new.

1. Research how you'll vote before you go. Write down your choices --- you can take notes with you to the polling place. You can follow the links in my earlier post to do your research. Read the ballot proposals beforehand, and if you live in Cuyahoga County, view a sample ballot for your precinct and check out the bar association's judicial endorsements.

2. Know your precinct number. That way you know which line to get in at your polling place. People can lose their vote by getting in the wrong line (3J instead of 3K, for instance). Your precinct number is on your voter registration card and other mailings from the Board of Elections. If you live in Cuyahoga County, you can check it online here.

3. Bring ID. Take a current photo ID (driver’s license, state ID or military ID), or a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check with your name and current address.

4. Don't wear anything that favors one side. You can't go into a polling place wearing an Obama T-shirt or McCain hat or Yes on 5 pin. It's considered "election campaigning" under this law.

5. Choose your time to vote wisely. The polls are open 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (If you're in line at 7:30 p.m., you can stay to vote.) The first and last hour are often the busiest. So vote in mid-morning or mid-afternoon if you can. Around 8 a.m. is next best.

6. Be prepared to wait in line. Elections officials predict huge turnout and long lines tomorrow. Bring something to read.

7. Fill out your ballot carefully. Cuyahoga County switched to paper ballots this year. You can ask for a new ballot if you make a mistake on the first one (or second one). Reread your ballot before you turn it in, looking for double-votes in a race, any races you left blank by accident, and stray marks. Fill in your choices completely. Don't fill in the write-in area if your candidate is already on the ballot -- that's a double vote, and the scanner will kick it back.

8. Feed your ballot through the scanner. Grab a cardboard privacy sleeve if you’re nervous about someone seeing your completed ballot. Then take your ballot to the scanner and run it through. If you double-voted, it’ll warn you and ask if you want the ballot back.

If something goes wrong:
9. Try cast a regular vote, not a provisional ballot. If a poll worker pulls out a yellow provisional envelope, ask a lot of questions to be sure you need to use it. About one in four are rejected later. Try to solve the problem first: If you forgot to bring your ID, go home to get it; if you’re not in the poll book, check your registration card or the wall maps to confirm you’re in the right precinct.

If you do vote provisionally, fill out the envelope carefully. You should be given a hotline number to call to find out if your vote counted.

10. Call these numbers to report a problem. If you or someone else has serious difficulty voting, call the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections at (216) 443-3298, the Secretary of State’s Office at 1-877-VOTE-VRI, or the Election Protection hotline maintained by voting-rights groups, 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

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