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Most Amer­ic­ans have unevent­ful elec­tion days. They go to their polling place, announce them­selves to the poll worker, cast their ballot, get their sticker, and leave. But between long linesmachine fail­uresregis­tra­tion issues, efforts to suppress the vote, and the threat of a cyber­at­tack, there’s always the chance that voters will face hurdles. Don’t despair or be deterred. There are some simple steps you can take before and on elec­tion day to increase the like­li­hood of being able to cast a vote that’s coun­ted.

Check your regis­tra­tion status and polling loca­tion before voting.

Lots of things can happen between elec­tion cycles — politi­cians redraw bound­ary lines, elec­tion work­ers cull their voter rolls, and polling places get consol­id­ated. If you check your regis­tra­tion status and where to vote before going to the polls, you can pre-identify prob­lems and have more time to fix them. Many voters can get the inform­a­tion they need online from their state or local elec­tion office websites. 

Know the rules before you get to the polls.

States have differ­ent policies and proced­ures govern­ing voting and elec­tions. Voter ID laws vary, polling place hours vary, eligib­il­ity to vote varies, who is allowed in the polling place varies, etc. If you know your state’s policies and prac­tices, you are in a good posi­tion to navig­ate any hiccups and to protect your­self in the event that a poll worker needs brush­ing up on the law. A big rule to know is whether your state allows you to register and vote on the same day. If it does, and you find your­self not on the poll­book, you have a path­way to a ballot that not every­one is lucky enough to have.

Plan as best you can to go to the polls outside of peak hours.

Most people find wait­ing in line to be a big drag. Long lines can be caused by a number of things, includ­ing polling places open­ing late, too few poll work­ers or work­ing voting machines, or an admin­is­trat­ive glitch delay­ing the processing of voters. If your polling place opens when it should, then being there right when it opens (some states as early as 6 a.m.) should­n’t be too conges­ted. The peri­ods between late morn­ing and lunch, and between lunch and the end of the work day also are good times.

Politely ask for answers.

Elec­tion work­ers have a tough job to do, and like every­one, they vary in skill, train­ing, and exper­i­ence. Some poll work­ers will have a customer service mental­ity, and others won’t. Some will know the law, and others won’t. If you have brushed up on your rules, and a poll worker is telling you some­thing that isn’t right, politely ask for more inform­a­tion, then escal­ate to the person higher in the chain of command at the site, and then ask them to contact the elec­tion office if you are not getting the help you need. If you can show poll work­ers that the county or state offi­cial website says some­thing differ­ent than what they are telling you, they often will get them­selves help. Being correct, along with being polite and firm, will go a long way to a reas­on­able resol­u­tion.

Pay atten­tion to your voting machine.

Many of the coun­try’s voting machines are older than the flip phone your dad has in his junk drawer. Their parts and calib­ra­tion wear out. And we also could do more to guard them against hack­ers. If you see some­thing that looks glitchy, suspi­cious, or down­right wrong (for example, the computer screen show­ing a differ­ent candid­ate than the one you selec­ted), alert a poll worker. If your choices are also prin­ted on a paper trail or ballot, exam­ine it. Tell a poll worker if it is wrong.

Enlist 866-OUR-VOTE.

866-OUR-VOTE is a nation­wide, free, hotline staffed by trained legal volun­teers to help you deal with elec­tion day chal­lenges. If you can’t resolve the issue, call 866-OUR-VOTE to see if there are other steps that can be taken. If you are able to resolve your issue, congrats! Call 866-OUR-VOTE anyway. Your call is a data point that voting rights advoc­ates can use to try and address the prob­lem you exper­i­enced on a more system­atic basis after elec­tion day. Let folks who prefer a language other than English know that they can get help, too: Span­ish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA; Arabic: 844-YALLA-US; Asian & Pacific languages: 888-API-VOTE; Amer­ican Sign Language video: 301–818-VOTE; Text “OUR VOTE” to 97779. 

Do not leave without cast­ing a provi­sional ballot, and make them tell you how to check to see if it got coun­ted.

Some percent­age of persons (hope­fully, a small one) may receive the accur­ate news that their only recourse is to cast a provi­sional ballot. Provi­sional ballots (the name may be differ­ent in other states — for example, in New York, they are called affi­davit ballots) are ballots that are coun­ted after some condi­tions are estab­lished. The condi­tions for count­ing your ballot will vary accord­ing to state law and the prob­lem you exper­i­enced. For example, the condi­tion may be that an elec­tion worker exam­ines your situ­ation and decides that you should have never been purged from the rolls. Or, the condi­tion may be that you present a differ­ent kind of docu­ment­ary iden­ti­fic­a­tion to your local canvassing board within a certain period of time. Whatever the situ­ation is, and whatever the reason is, do not walk away without cast­ing a provi­sional ballot. When there is offi­cial paper­work demon­strat­ing that voters were having trouble, legis­lat­ors and advoc­ates can make changes. And, some places use your provi­sional ballot to register you to vote next year if it turns out you were eligible to vote but not registered in time. After cast­ing your provi­sional ballot, demand that the poll worker give you the inform­a­tion you need to find out if your provi­sional ballot will be coun­ted (in many places, it is a piece of paper with a phone number to call). Many polling loca­tions are terrible about giving out that inform­a­tion.  

Remem­ber, your right to vote is funda­mental.

If this elec­tion is like others, there will be some impro­pri­et­ies that will be unfor­tu­nately insur­mount­able for some Amer­ic­ans. But, some of the impro­pri­et­ies will be just hassles and head­aches. All Amer­ic­ans should remem­ber that our right to vote is precious and funda­mental. It facil­it­ates all of our other rights. Amer­ic­ans have liter­ally died for this right. Do not let craven politi­cians, hapless bureau­crats, polling place bullies, disen­chanted peers, or misin­formed citizens deter you from voting. There are people that want to help you and will help you. Vote, vote, vote. 

(Image: Mario Tama/Getty)