Denied at the Polls? How To Secure Your Voting Rights

Being turned away from a polling place can be distressing. It's essential to remember that various measures are in place to protect your voting rights. 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 few of those purged voters were ineligible to vote. Some were simply voters who had moved or hadn't voted in a recent election. Others had failed to respond to mail sent to them verifying their address.

This led to many voters arriving at the polling locations unaware that officials had purged them from the voter list.

It is crucial to learn why election officials might deny you the opportunity to vote and how to address them. It helps protect your right to vote and gives you an idea of what you can do if you encounter challenges at the polling place.

What Are the Reasons That Could Prevent You From Voting?

You might find yourself turned away at the polls for several reasons. Having your name removed from the voter roll in your area is only one of them.

Election officers might deny you to vote at the polling place because:

  • You lack an appropriate identification card as determined by the voter ID laws of your state.
  • The voter records show that you requested an absentee ballot but are not casting one.
  • Your voter registration card is inaccurate or contains outdated information.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 who can challenge a voter's eligibility on the National Association of Secretaries of State website.

What Are the Acceptable Forms of Identification?

The following documents are the acceptable forms of identification that you can bring to polling places when you cast your vote:

  • Driver's license
  • State ID card
  • U.S. Passport
  • Employee ID
  • Military ID
  • Student ID
  • Bank statements
  • Utility bills
  • Paychecks
  • Concealed Handgun licenses

The voter identification requirements may vary depending on the state's voting system. Some state laws may ask for one or more types of documentation. Other states allow non-photo IDs.

First Time Voters

Election officials may also ask first-time voters for more documentary requirements. For instance, Section 15483(b)(2)(A) of the Help America Vote Act states that polling places should ask first-time voters for valid ID if the voter hasn't verified their identification and registered through mail.

For a detailed guide on voter ID requirements, you can visit this table by the NCSL.

Expanding Voting Access With Same-Day Voter Registration

Some states allow voters to register on Election Day if they fail to register to vote before election day. Election law calls this process Same Day Registration. With same-day registration, eligible residents can register at the polling location, the same day they cast their vote. As of 2023, there are 23 states plus Washington, D.C., that allow SDR:

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Connecticut
  4. District of Columbia
  5. Hawaii
  6. Idaho
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowa
  9. Maine
  10. Maryland
  11. Michigan
  12. Minnesota
  13. Montana
  14. Nevada
  15. New Hampshire
  16. New Mexico
  17. North Carolina
  18. Utah
  19. Vermont
  20. Virginia
  21. Washington
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Wyoming
  24. Washington, D.C.

In other states, voters should file their voter registration before Election Day. The registration deadline may differ in every state. Usually, it should be between eight to thirty days before Election Day.

Federal Law Ensures Access to a Provisional Ballot

Thanks to Section 302 of the Help American Vote Act, you can still cast your vote by requesting a provisional ballot.

If election officials cannot verify your eligibility to vote on election day, they can issue provisional ballots. This can happen if you do not have an acceptable form of ID card or election officials cannot find your name on the registered voters' rolls.

There are also polling places that allow you to vote by signing an affidavit declaring your eligibility. Election officials may ask you to provide your personal information at the polling place. In most cases, they will ask for your name and address.

If you do not have any forms of identification, election officials may also ask you to sign the voter registration list or poll book.

Provisional ballots exist to protect one's voting rights. It ensures that voters are not excluded from exercising this right merely due to administrative oversight or error.

Strict vs Non-Strict Voter ID Laws

Provisional ballots can either have strict or non-strict voter ID provisions. States with strict voter ID laws allow voters to use provisional ballots if they lack proper voter identification when they cast their ballot. Election officials may ask voters to submit specific requirements to verify their voter information. 

For instance, the election officer may ask you to return to the polling location and present an acceptable ID. If you fail to present the document, election officers will not consider your provisional ballot.

Meanwhile, nonstrict voter ID law allows voters to cast provisional ballots without the required voter ID. For instance, you may ask a poll watcher to vouch for your identity. You can also request to sign an affidavit confirming your identity. The election officials then decide whether to consider your provisional ballot. In this case, you don't have to take further steps to have your ballot counted.

Voting Access for People With Disability

Everyone who is mentally capable can exercise their right to vote. This rule applies regardless of their physical or mental disability. The mental capability in voting refers to one's ability to comprehend the nature and effect of their vote. This includes their capacity to decide to whom they will cast their vote.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates electoral systems to provide accessible polling locations to people with disability. What this means is that polling places should have:

  • Audio ballots or assistive voting technology for people with hearing or visual impairments
  • Wheelchair-accessible places
  • Information in large print or Braille
  • Accessible electronic information and information technology

Voting Access for Language Minority Groups

The Voting Rights Act contains provisions that cater to voters who are members of the language minority group. The Act mandates covered jurisdictions to have poll workers who can provide language assistance during Election Day. This aims to aid language minority voters who are not fluent in English. This provision is under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and covers the following language minority groups:

  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Spanish

This means that regular ballots and other voting materials written in English should also have a non-English translation. Covered jurisdictions should have the following election materials in non-English language:

  • Absentee ballots
  • Sample ballots
  • Voter registration
  • Polling place notices
  • Instructional forms
  • Election information pamphlets

Voting Access for U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

U.S. Citizens outside of the United States can also exercise their right to vote through absentee voting.

Absentee voting is available to eligible voters who cannot vote in person. Some of the reasons cited that prevent one from voting in person are the following:

  • Military duties outside of the U.S.
  • Traveling overseas for business or work
  • Studying outside of the U.S.
  • Illness that hinders one from voting in person

The eligibility to register and vote absentee may vary in every state. It is essential to check your election office or ask your local election officials for more details about absentee ballot applications.

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 watching who votes. There may be representatives from political parties and average citizens who have decided to be “poll watchers."

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 contesting your vote has a good-faith reason for challenging it.

Someone else may need to vouch for you. If someone challenges you and the Judge of Election cannot immediately confirm your eligibility to vote, you can still request a provisional ballot.

Know Your Rights

The U.S. Constitution might not explicitly guarantee your right to vote, but various state and federal laws protect this fundamental right. With this, it's good to know the options available for you to cast your vote. If officials turned you away at the polls, knowing you can seek legal help is essential.

Civil rights attorneys can provide legal advice related to your voting rights. It is essential to stay informed and proactive in protecting your right to vote. Contact a civil rights lawyer near you to receive personalized legal advice.

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