Things you need to know in New York State
Here’s some information and advice for New York State voters this Election Day. Because turnout is expected to be unusually high, and the new computerized voter registration database may well have many voters incorrectly removed from the voter rolls, there are four things you need to know:
1) Bring identification to the polls.
2) Know your rights.
3) Be prepared to wait in line as long as necessary.
4) Numbers to call if you have a problem.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1) Bring identification to the polls - Voters who have newly registered by mail or online will be asked to show identification when they sign in to the polling place. Because of the transition to the new computerized voter database, it is possible that even a voter who as voted before may be asked (incorrectly) to produce identification. I strongly recommend that ALL voters bring ID with them to the polls whether or not you have voted before.
2) Know Your Rights– No one may be turned away from the polls without voting. However, it is possible that a voter who believes that they are registered to vote may not be listed in the poll books. In this case, there are specific steps that must be taken by election inspectors (New York’s name for poll workers) to attempt to resolve the issue so that you can vote on a lever machine or Ballot Marking Device.
If the election inspectors cannot determine that you are registered to vote, you have two options:
a) Voters who have been removed from the rolls incorrectly have the right to have a judge hear them and order that they be allowed to vote on a machine. On Election Day there’s a special Court in each county which hears voter complaints. If the voter’s plea is successful, the Court will issue an order instructing poll workers to allow the voter to vote on a machine. These cases are often processed quickly, and it is far better to vote on a machine than the other alternative, an ‘affidavit’ ballot. If you decide to go to the special Court, election inspectors are obligated to find out and inform you where the Court hearing Election Day pleas is located.
b) Affidavit ballot – Any voter whose name is not in the poll books has the right to vote on an affidavit ballot (called a ‘provisional’ ballot outside of New York State). This is definitely better than not voting at all, but affidavit ballots are only counted after the county Board of Election conducts an investigation to determine that the voter was properly registered and in the correct polling place. It may take some time before the investigation is completed, and it will certainly be after Election day. Even worse, I know of instances where affidavit ballots are never counted at all. If all else fails, insist on your right to use an affidavit ballot, but do this only after exhausting other options - it’s definitely better to vote on a lever machine or BMD.
One other important note on Affidavit Ballots – you must be in the correct polling place or the ballot will not be counted! Double check before you go to the polls that you’re at the right polling place, and remember that election inspectors are required to look up whether you are in the correct polling place if they find you are not listed in the poll books.
3) Be prepared to wait as long as necessary – All over the country, unprecedented numbers of voters are expected to turn out in the 2008 election. In addition, complications due to problems with the new computerized voter registration database could cause bottlenecks at sign in tables. All of these factors may contribute to making long lines and lengthy waits at the polls next Tuesday a very real possibility.
Allow plenty of time to vote this year. If possible, try to go vote during the off peak hours between 9am to 12 noon, and 2pm to 5pm. If you’re taking time off from work allow for the possibility that you’ll be away for several hours. If at all possible, arrange child care for children who may not be able to wait in line for many hours with you.
4) Numbers to call if you have a problem – If you have a problem on Election Day, or want to report a problem you have witnessed, there are several numbers to call to report the incident and get advice:
1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en espanol)
In New York City, call NYPIRG’s hotline at 212-822-0282.
Above all, get out and vote! Remember, the only way to guarantee that your vote won’t be counted is to not vote.