Polling Place Rules and Regulations

The evolution of voting practices in the United States led to more accessible and safe polling places, yet complexities remain.

The evolution of voting practices in the United States led to more accessible and safe polling places, yet complexities remain.

Understanding the laws and regulations surrounding election laws is crucial to ensure a smooth voting experience. This article provides a comprehensive overview of in-person voting rules at polling places. It aims to help voters understand their rights at polling places and the guidelines they must follow to vote effectively.

Polling Places

Depending on size, election officials will section a county into multiple voting precincts, also called voting districts. Most polling places are centrally located within a particular voting precinct. 

Many resources are available online if you need help finding your local polling place. For instance, USA.gov has a polling place finder that you can access for free. The Vote.org website also contains a list of polling place locators by state.

Accessibility of Polling Places

All U.S. citizens eligible to vote, including people with disabilities, should be able to access their local polling places and cast a ballot. As such, federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, require polling locations to meet specific accessibility standards. Some accessibility standards include:

  • Entrances and voting booths wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs
  • Handrails on stairs
  • Voting equipment, audio ballots, or assistive voting technology for people with impaired vision or hearing
  • Voting information written in large print or Braille

Availability of Bilingual and Multilingual Ballots

The U.S. acknowledges the country's diverse population. States often have a population of non-English speaking electors. With this, the U.S. government implemented using multilingual and bilingual voter's ballots and other voting materials at polling places. The aim is to break the language barrier and safeguard every U.S. citizen's right to vote.

This election code was effective during the 1975 amendment to the Voting Rights ActSection 203 of the Act mandates political subdivisions to give language assistance during election day. The provision focuses on minority groups who speak the following language:

  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Spanish

The U.S. Census Bureau evaluates the polling places required to have multilingual ballots every five years. The Voting Rights Act also directs certain polling places to have bilingual poll workers, interpreters, and trained personnel available in polling places to assist non-English speaking voters.

Electioneering Restrictions on Polling Places

Electioneering is when political parties or candidates campaign to influence or persuade voters to vote for or against a particular candidate or party. A person can commit this act either through active or subtle activities.

Examples of an active act of electioneering are campaign rallies or holding public speeches. A subtle act of electioneering can be wearing t-shirts with political statements to persuade voters.

U.S. states have laws that prohibit acts of electioneering. For instance, nine states have some prohibitions regarding loitering near polling places. Thirty-eight states prohibit campaign materials, signs, banners, and other literature near polling places. Twenty-two states prohibit campaign apparel, stickers, buttons, or placards near polling places.

You can visit this article to learn more about electioneering laws and interference.

Most state election laws consider electioneering as a criminal offense. For instance, Texas state law considers electioneering within 100 feet of the area surrounding polling places during the voting period as a Class C misdemeanor

Kansas likewise criminalizes electioneering as a Class C misdemeanor. The National Association of Secretaries of State has a list of state laws prohibiting electioneering at polling places.

Election Officials and Their Roles

Election officials play a crucial part in the election process. Appointed by the state or local government, they manage and oversee the election process to ensure the integrity of the vote. The duties of an election official may vary in every state. Some of the responsibilities of an election official include the following:

  • Managing voter registration and verifying registered voters
  • Overseeing the actual voting process, explaining the voting procedure, and distributing ballots
  • Troubleshooting technical issues on election day
  • Tabulating election results

Law Enforcement Officials in Polling Places

Federal and state laws issue directions on the roles of law enforcement officials in polling places. These directions prevent voter intimidation or interference with the election process.

Election laws that touch on this issue vary in every state, but in general, police officers can be present at polling places to assist with law enforcement. For example, 29 states authorize election officials to summon police officers or permit them to be present in polling places. Five states suggest that police officers should be stationed at polling places or be available when requested.

The main goal of these state laws is to maintain a peaceful, safe, and fair election process by making law enforcement officials present in polling places.

Seek Legal Advice

If you've experienced potential voting violations or have questions about the rules and regulations at your polling place, it's a good idea to seek the legal advice of a civil rights attorney. 

Civil rights attorneys specializing in election laws can guide and clarify your voting rights. They can also assist you in understanding complex election codes and address issues you may encounter at the polling place. Don't let these legal barriers prevent you from exercising your right to vote. Contact a civil rights attorney near you.

Additional Voting Information

Was this helpful?