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This May Be America But Don’t Automatically Assume You Can Vote
September 24, 2012
This is still America and everyone has the Constitutional right to cast their vote on Election Day but only 20 states will allow you to cast your vote without providing at least minimal identification, and most of them are working toward rectifying that situation even as we speak.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 2012, and the last day to register to vote is Tuesday, October 9. With most states enacting stricter voter registration laws, it’s imperative that you make sure you’re registered as early as possible to allow time to gather up the necessary documents.
If you believe you’re already registered, think again. Almost every state in the Union has either changed their registration requirements or they have some type of voter registration legislation pending. If you’re planning to step up to the poll and make a difference with your vote, then you need to make sure your vote will be counted.
The single most important requirement across all states requiring voter ID is a state issued photo ID. That’s not to say that a photo ID is the only requirement, so again, don’t assume anything. To find out the exact voting requirements in your state visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
For the average American it would seem easy enough to get a driver’s license or some other form of photo ID that would be acceptable. But as Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC pointed out in her program on September 22, it’s not as easy as you might think.
According to Harris-Perry, restricted voting laws make it difficult for people of certain groups to qualify. The elderly, disabled, people of color, and students, in particular, are the groups least likely to have government issued ID. But in many cases, “Laws requiring a voter’s legal name to match the name on their photo ID could pose a problem at the polls for women who’ve changed their name through marriage or divorce. Women face considerable barriers to even getting a valid ID.”
Recent legislation passed in Pennsylvania makes it even tougher for women to vote. According to Harris-Perry, if you’re a man it’s easy. If your name is Joseph E. Voter your name can show up as Joe or J or Earl and that’s acceptable. But if you’re a woman, you need to provide proof using your legal name.
In the U.S. women change their name in 90% of marriages and divorces. Additionally, 52% of women age 18 and over don’t have their legal name on the birth certificate, and 34% of voting age women don’t have proof of citizenship under their legal name. An alarming 34% of voting age women with access to proof of citizenship have no documents with their current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million women without these documents will not be able to vote.
Elderly African American women are hit hardest, especially in large metropolitan areas. They may never have learned to drive so they won’t have a driver’s license. They may not have a birth certificate because they were born in segregated hospitals. And their name may have changed because they were married and divorced.
During the 2008 election almost one million more women turned out at the polls than men. If the same thing happens this year, these stricter voting laws can cancel out a lot of those votes and have a major effect on the outcome.
Each of the fifty states has its own voter registration laws. These laws are being enacted supposedly to prevent voter fraud but they’re really being used to manipulate election results, which is why it’s so important that you check to make sure you meet all the requirements – even if you’ve been registered for years. But registration requirements aren’t the only things that have changed.
In 32 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast an early vote during a predesignated period prior to Election day. However, you can’t just walk in and say you want to cast your vote, you still need to be registered, although some states allow you to register at the same time you’re casting your early vote. In some states you have to have a verifiable reason for why you want to vote early, such as a military assignment or a medical reason. Early voting periods can vary from state to state.
If you’re in the military or for whatever reason you reside in another state or country during part of the year you can request an absentee ballot. All states allow absentee voting however, in 21 states an excuse is required, while 27 states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote by absentee ballot without offering an excuse. In eight states and the District of Columbia you can be issued a permanent absentee ballot so you never have to go to the polls again.
Of course, passing all of your state’s voter requirements and stepping up to the poll to actually cast your vote still doesn’t mean your vote will be counted, or that it’ll be counted properly.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Election Day and anyone standing in line at 6 p.m. is guaranteed the opportunity to vote. However, in most states the polls officially close at 8 p.m. It’s up to the discretion of each polling place whether or not they want to extend the hours beyond 8 p.m. But if they do and you cast your vote after 8 p.m. you’ll be forced to use a provisional ballot, which means your vote probably won’t ever be counted. If you don’t meet the voter registration requirements of your state you’ll also be issued a provisional ballot, assuming of course they actually let you vote.
Provisional ballots are kept separate from the regular ballots and the theory is that they are eventually counted, whether they change the results of the election or not. However, they’re only counted if you return to verify your eligibility within 2 or 3 days, depending on the state, if they’re counted at all. Only those provisional ballots deemed eligible are then counted on the second Wednesday after the election, and we all know how much weight they carry. More often than not the winner is declared before the polls even close.
It might seem prudent to vote early or use an absentee ballot, or even vote by mail if it’s available in your state. That way you can assure your vote will be there well before the deadline and it’ll be included in the count.
But it’s important to note that unless there’s a challenge to the count, your vote might be left sitting in a mail bag in the back room of some warehouse and never get counted. And if there is a challenge and those mail bags are opened, your vote may be discounted for any number of reasons and you’ll never know about it.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no oversight committee that stands there in the mail rooms manually checking and rechecking every single mail-in vote cast during an election. In some states you can ask for verification that your mail-in vote was counted but there’s really no way for you to be sure, or to even be sure that it was counted as a vote for the candidate you chose.
Donna Anderson writes for Examiner.com.
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