What to Do if Someone Tries to Stop You From Voting

So you’re pumped up to vote, and you hit the polls on Election Day — but the person on the other side of the table says you can’t vote today. You know you checked your registration, and you have your ID in order — if you live in a voter ID state, that is.

You can’t see any reason you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Or maybe you’re allowed to vote, but you witness another person involved in this scenario and you want to advocate with them. So, what do you do?

The most important thing to remember? Don’t leave. 

A number of options are available to you, depending on the specifics of the situation — but they start with refusing to shrug and walk away, although you may need to step outside of the polling place to take care of some business.

You should also start documenting, but be aware that some states bar photography or video recording in polling places!

Start by looking around for poll observers, and make sure they see what is happening. Be aware that some poll observers are partisan — or even there to intimidate people – so you may not be able to count on them for help.

Ask the person behind the counter to specifically explain why you are not being allowed to cast a ballot.

Do they say that you’re not on the rolls, or that your name and/or signature don’t match those on the rolls — even though you’re sure that you are registered to vote, and maybe even have a copy of your voter registration confirmation? You have the right to cast a provisional ballot or take advantage of same-day voter registration — and you can get information about state-by-state laws from Ballotpedia.

Clearly and calmly ask to cast a provisional ballot, and make sure you keep the ballot stub so you can check in on it. Despite what you may have heard, these ballots are reviewed and counted.

Does the poll worker say that you’re on the rolls, but the identification you brought isn’t sufficient? Double-check your state’s voter identification laws, and take note of all the forms of ID that are accepted. Poll workers are volunteers with minimal training, and if you show them documentation supporting your identification, it may clear up an innocent mixup. If your identification does not meet state standards, you still have the right to cast a provisional ballot.

Do they say the polls are closed, so you can’t vote? If you were in line at the time polls officially closed, you have the right to vote. If you hit the polling place shortly before polls close, consider documenting your arrival and affirming with other people in line that you are in the right place so you can act as witnesses for each other.

If politely correcting poll workers isn’t effective, it’s time to move on to the next step: Ask to talk to a supervisor.

Depending on where you are, this person may be more knowledgeable and in a better position to help you. While it’s galling to be polite to people who are trying to disenfranchise you, stay low-key and adopt my favorite tactic for dealing with frustrating people: willful obliviousness. “I’m sure it’s totally just a mistake…” “I heard they just updated the ID guidelines so you might not know this is actually an acceptable form of ID but as you can see on the Secretary of State’s website…” “I’m pretty sure I heard I can cast a provisional ballot, actually?”

You can also contact the local clerk or board of elections — the appropriate agency depends on your city and/or state of residence. Explain that you are having problems at the polls even though you are registered, and request that they look up your records to see what is happening. Sometimes it really is just an innocent goof-up! And if it’s not, you’ve started laying a paper trail to find out what happened to your registration.

Still getting stonewalled? You may want to consider calling Election Protection (866.OUR.VOTE), which can take you through some options. You can also report it to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Both of these are nonpartisan. If you’re registered with a political party, you can also contact the local party office for help.

And consider reaching out to local media as well: If you need to, step outside the polling place so you can tweet a photo or make a Facebook post explaining what’s going on in real time.

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman/Flickr

65 comments

Mary B
Mary B7 days ago

Shelly W. A FEW MINUTES ! Do you know how to tell time? Have you ever waited on the phone for a REAL person because the phone menu is of NO help. It is very easy to end up spending an hour or more trying to straighten out a mess like this. And that's for a young person not having memory glitches. The only reason all this extra stuff is needed is because the repubs are throwing up deliberate road blocks. We got by for years with out all this before people were brainwashed to fear immigrants but not guns and the right wing paranoids who hold most of them. According to some sources there are enough guns owned for every man, woman and child in the whole country to have one, but in fact only a few actually possess the whole stash.

SEND
Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson8 days ago

Thank you.

SEND
Shelley w
Shelley w23 days ago

This is a long explanation of what you have to do if you never bothered to check what I.D. is required before you go to vote. Why not spend a few minutes checking on-line or phoning the many government information numbers to ensure that you enjoy a smooth process. You would do that if you apply for any government I.D. or even a driver's licence.

SEND
Brandy S
Brandy S24 days ago

I vote by mail.

SEND
Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill24 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Callie R
Callie R24 days ago

If it is possible in your state sign up to receive an absentee ballot and vote by mail. This makes it a whole lot less likely they can discriminate because of gender, color, nationality, religion or sexual preference.

SEND
Laura R
Laura R24 days ago

Thank you.

SEND
Henry M
Henry M24 days ago

Ty

SEND