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Election 2016: What Voters Need to Know

This page includes information on where to vote, what’s legal and not legal at the polls, and who to call if you run into any problems.

  • Adam Gitlin
November 3, 2016

On Nov. 8, Americans will head to the polls and exercise the most fundamental right of living in our democracy. We will make our voice heard in one of the most important and anticipated elections in recent memory. Before you vote, it’s important to know your rights, and the resources available to help protect them. This page includes information on where to vote, what’s legal and not legal at the polls, and who to call if you run into any problems.

Find Out Where You Vote and What’s on the Ballot

Before you vote on Tuesday, you need to know where to go and what’s on the ballot. Google put together an easy lookup tool. Just type in your address below:

Know the Rules for Your State

Voting rules are different in every state. For example, in some states you give your name and address at the polling place to vote, while in others you show some form of ID. See our 2016 Voting Guide to find out the rules in your state and learn about what to expect at the polls.

Know Your Rights Against Intimidation

In the last few months there’s been a lot of talk about election “rigging” and people going to “watch” the polls. Election officials are ready to keep our election and our voters safe, and you should feel confident going to the polls. Still, just in case, here’s a quick rundown of some frequently asked questions to help make sure you know your rights. And if you have any problems, let your local officials know. They’re there to help.

What’s Not Allowed?

Federal and state laws protect voters from discrimination and intimidation. Voters are protected from, among other things:

  • shouting and abusive language
  • being followed and photographed
  • having their license-plate numbers recorded
  • baseless or discriminatory challenges to their eligibility to vote
  • having weapons brandished in front of them
  • polling-place entrances blocked by disruptors
  • distribution of misleading information about the election

For more on voter intimidation, see the Brennan Center’s recent briefing memo.

Who Else Can Be at the Polls Other than Election Officials and Voters?

Many states have laws prohibiting anyone who’s not voting, or serving a legally recognized function (like working at the polls), from loitering at polling places. However, states generally allow for official observers, and, in many instances, for challenges to voters.

Poll watchers are generally representatives of political parties or other organizations. They are there to monitor an election, and are allowed in some form in almost every state. But they are not allowed to disrupt elections, and often are prohibited from interacting with voters. For a list of state election-observer rules, see the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

What Do I Do if Someone Challenges my Ability to Vote?

Thirty-nine states allow private citizens to challenge a voter at the polls in some form. Challenges generally need to have a good faith basis and cannot be based on discrimination. For more details about the challenge process, see the Brennan Center’s comprehensive report, Voter Challenges.

What about Guns at the Polls?

Openly carrying a firearm into a polling place may be illegal intimidation if voters feel uncomfortable, and some states have specific limitations on carrying of weapons, whether open or concealed, at the polls. For more, including rules for law-enforcement officers, see the Brennan Center’s recent briefing memo. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is also a good resource for more general information on where firearms can be carried.

Is Exit Polling Allowed?

Surveying voters as they leave the polling place is generally legal, but has to be done carefully. Courts have recognized that exit polling can make voters just as uncomfortable as other forms of intimidation. Exit polling may also count as something called “electioneering,” basically campaign activity, which usually has to happen at least 100 feet from the polls. Some states are less strict (Alabama is 30 feet) and some much more (Louisiana is 600 feet).

Are There Special Instructions for What Is Allowed in Particular States?

Several states have issued key guidance on permitted and prohibited conduct at polling places.

Know Who You Can Call for Questions about Voting

The vast majority of Americans will not have problems voting, either before or on Election Day. But if you do, you are not alone. There are nonpartisan and official groups available to help with any problems you may face.

Nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition (all numbers toll free)

  • 1–866-OUR-VOTE
  • 1–888-VE-Y-VOTA
  • 1–888-API-VOTE

DOJ Civil Rights Division, Voting Section

  • 1–800–253–3931 (toll free)
  • 202–307–2767
  • 202–305–0082 (TTY)

Arab American Institute Yalla Vote Hotline

  • 1–844–418–1682 (toll free)