Turned Away At the Polls: What To Do

If you are turned away at the polls when you go to vote, you do have recourse. You can say to the poll workers: “The law requires you to give me a provisional ballot with a receipt."

Between 2014 and 2016, almost 16 million voters were removed from state voter rolls in an effort to prevent voter fraud. However, only a very small number of those purged voters were ineligible to vote. They were simply voters who had moved, or who hadn't voted in a recent election, or who had failed to respond to mail that was sent to them verifying their address.

Unfortunately, the purges of state voter rolls resulted in eligible voters not being able to vote. And many of them did not know that they were no longer on their local voter roll until they arrived at the polls on Election Day. Don't let this happen to you. Be prepared.

Why You Could Be Prevented from Voting

There are a number of reasons why you might find yourself turned away at the polls. Having your name removed from the voter roll in your area is only one of them.

You may be denied the right to vote at the polling place because:

  • You lack an appropriate ID as determined by the voter ID laws of your state.
  • The voter records show that you requested an absentee ballot but you are not casting an absentee ballot.
  • Your voter registration card is inaccurate or contains outdated information.
  • Your name is misspelled on the voter registration roll.
  • In a primary, your party may not have been listed correctly.
  • Your eligibility to vote has been challenged. Learn more about who can challenge a voter's eligibility on the National Association of Secretaries of State's website.

Federal Law Ensures Access to a Provisional Ballot

Thanks to Section 302 of the Help American Vote Act, you can request a provisional ballot to vote on election day if you believe you are registered to vote but you can't be found on the registered voter rolls, or if you do not have the right kind of ID.

If your state has same-day voter registration, you can ask to register (or re-register) to vote. Then you will be given a regular ballot.

If you cannot register on the spot but are required to use a provisional ballot, be sure to ask for a receipt if you are not automatically given one. The receipt ensures you can follow up with election officials to see that your vote was counted.

If you used a provisional ballot because you did not have the right ID with you, you will need to present an acceptable ID to a local election official within a specified time. Ask the election workers when you need to present an acceptable ID and where you need to take that ID. If you fail to bring an acceptable ID before the deadline, your provisional ballot will not be counted.

Learn more about the challenges voters have faced at the polls and how provisional ballots are one step in ensuring people can vote.

What If Someone Other Than an Election Judge Challenges Your Eligibility to Vote at the Polls?

Election judges aren't the only people at polling stations who are watching who votes. There may be representatives from political parties and average citizens who have decided to “watch" voters.

If someone challenges your right to vote, the Judge of Election has to decide if you have adequately proven your identity and residence and whether the person challenging your vote has a good faith reason for challenging it.

Someone else may need to vouch for you. Additional documents may be needed. Even if you are challenged and the Judge of Election cannot immediately affirm you are eligible to vote, you can still ask for a provisional ballot.

Know Your Rights

It will come as a surprise to many Americans that they do not have a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote (at least in presidential elections). That's what the Supreme Court has affirmed. But you DO have a legal right to demand a provisional ballot if you are turned away at the polls.

If you have been turned away at the polls, prevented from casting a provisional ballot, or election officials refuse to count your ballot, talk to a civil rights attorney in your area.

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