Don't believe rumors; know your voting rights
By Bob Hall
For the Salisbury Post
Maybe you’re heard the rumor that you can’t vote if you have an outstanding traffic ticket. Or you must re-register to vote if you skip an election. Or your ballot will be rejected if you mark the straight-party option but don’t mark your choice for president first.
These claims are all false.
As an independent watchdog group, Democracy North Carolina tracks all sorts of misinformation. Voters should learn about the candidates, but it’s also valuable to know your basic voting rights so you won’t be intimidated or discouraged by the next rumor that seems a little scary.
Here’s a list of 20 tips that we’ve verified with the State Board of Elections:
* You may wear a button, hat or shirt with a candidate’s name as you quietly vote, but you may not actively draw attention to your choices.
* You may take a list of your choices into the polling place to help you remember, but do not show it to others or leave it behind. Put the list on paper, not a cell phone. Cell phones can be cameras, so their use is prohibited inside the polls.
* You may vote for any candidate of your choice, regardless of your political party affiliation.
* Voting the “straight-party” ticket does not include the president; you must vote for president, judges, nonpartisan candidates and issues separately. If you vote on a paper ballot, look on both sides.
* You may go to any Early Voting location in your county to vote, not just the one nearest to your precinct.
* Because of the large number of new districts and divided precincts, it’s important to preview your ballot before voting. If an organization helped you register to vote or request an absentee ballot, you should check your status with your local board of elections. To see your ballot and answer questions, go to NCElectionConnection.com or call 888-687-8683.
* You don’t need an excuse to request an absentee ballot. Your parent or near relative can ask that one be sent to you but they can’t pick it up; it must be mailed by the county elections office.
* You do not need to show your registration card when you go to vote.
* New voters in a county may need to show a form of ID if the driver’s license or Social Security number they listed on the registration form didn’t match government databases. Acceptable IDs with your name and address include any government document (license, bill, letter, etc.), a utility bill, bank statement or a payroll stub.
* Members of the military and students can register at the address where they live now, even if their “permanent” mailing address (or address for tax purposes) is elsewhere.
* You do not need to register again (even if you don’t vote) until you move to a new address or change your name.
* If you are not registered or have moved, you can register and vote on the same day during the Early Voting period at one of your county’s Early Voting centers. You’ll be asked to show a form of ID, like one of those listed above. You may not use Same-Day Registration on Election Day.
* Ballots cast during Early Voting count just like those cast on Election Day.
* The easiest time to vote, when lines are generally shortest, is in the mid-morning or early afternoon.
* If necessary, you may vote at any polling place in your county on Election Day, but your choices will only count for the items that also appear on your home precinct’s ballot. Some items, such as a particular district race, may not appear on another precinct’s ballot.
* If your name doesn’t appear on the registration rolls or you have any problem when you vote, you should be offered a provisional ballot — and a toll-free number or website to learn if the ballot was counted or, if not, the reason why.
* Felons convicted in any state may register and vote in North Carolina after serving their sentence, including probation or parole. No special document is needed.
* If you have an outstanding warrant, bankruptcy, traffic ticket, civil fine or misdemeanor conviction, you may still vote.
* It’s against the law to intentionally distribute false information about the voting process.
* If you have problems or see suspicious activity, call the State Board of Elections at 1-866-522-4723 or the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Bob Hall is director of the Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan organization that promotes voter participation and fair elections.