With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, many Americans are beginning to worry about their votes.
A recent poll by Politico and Morning Consult found that 52% of registered voters believed Russia was likely to try to influence the 2018 midterm elections for Congress, while a Supreme Court decision in June upholding Ohio’s aggressive voter roll purging practices has renewed concerns about who gets stripped from state registration lists, especially among Democrats.
“The vote is a precious resource that we need to guard and make that we are able to express,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University and an expert in voting behaviors. “Sometimes state practices get in the way of that.”
Here are some steps you can take to protect your vote this November and beyond.
Re-register whenever you move
If you move, make sure you quickly re-register at your new address.
Beck said this often affects college students, who move frequently and don’t update their records.
“If they even move down the block — from one precinct to another — they need to make that change in the registration roll,” he said. Students have “a lot of things going on in their lives. Whether that’s going to emerge as a top priority is quite another matter.”
Check your mail
The National Voting Rights Act also requires states to send a notice by mail asking voters to confirm their address before removing their name from voter registration lists, unless they have already asked to be removed. But, as was the case in Ohio, the notices can easily be mistaken for junk mail.
“You get a lot of mail that you just ignore,” Beck said. It’s especially important to pay attention to it in the months leading up to elections.
Double-check your registration
Before Election Day comes, check that you are still registered to vote and that your registration is up to date. These records are often available through your state Secretary of State’s website. You can also use databases compiled by nonprofits, like this one created by Vote.org.
If you don’t have regular access to the internet, you can call or visit your county election office and ask about your records.
Vote early or vote absentee
If you’re concerned about being turned away on Election Day, you can vote early or absentee. In more than 30 states, all qualified voters can cast ballots in person during a designated period prior to the election. You often don’t even need an excuse, as was the case in absentee voting in the past.
Every state will mail absentee ballots to certain voters who request one, but up to 20 states require a reason that you need one, such as the fact that you’ll be out of the state during the election.
Either way, voting before the election means you’ll have more time to respond if there is a problem with your registration, and you’ll be covered in the event you face a last-minute emergency on Election Day.
Beck says this line of thinking is smart, but notes it “requires pre-planning.”
Check in with your friends
Once you have voted, check in with your friends. Research shows that the most effective means of getting out the vote remains casual in-person contacts and many people are motivated to vote by a sense that their friends and neighbors are doing so as well.
Cast a provisional ballot
If all else fails and county election officials cannot immediately indicate your registration status, you do have another option.
“You can always demand a provisional ballot if you think you’ve been wrongly removed,” said Michael McDonald, a political scientist and director of the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida.
You’ll likely have to sign the provisional ballot and its envelope in one or more places before giving it to a polling place official, but don’t leave the polling location until you do this.
“In most cases, those provisional ballots do end up being counted,” Beck said.
Double-check that your vote was counted
In some states, you can check to see that your vote was counted on a database on your Secretary of State’s website.
While it won’t say who you voted for or by what method you cast your vote, it will indicate a vote happened.
“That could be a reassurance that [the] vote was indeed counted,” Beck said. “I don’t think [a] state has an obligation to tell you or me that we have voted provisionally and that vote has been allowed, though it probably should have that obligation,” he continued.
If you find out that your vote wasn’t counted, call your Secretary of State’s office. Beck says it might also be smart to reach out to the office of your political party where you live for additional help if you are concerned that your provisional ballot wasn’t counted.
Volunteer on election day for your preferred candidates
After you’ve made sure that you voted properly — in the proper jurisdiction — consider helping other people cast their votes and know the steps needed to cast provisional ballots, if necessary.
When state officials do voter roll purges, they typically look for inactive voters. That means if you only vote during presidential elections or when there’s a big issue on the ballot, you’re more at risk of having your registration canceled.
In addition, the National Voting Rights Act requires that states wait multiple election cycles where voters don’t show up on Election Day before pruning them from the list.
“Your best defense is to vote,” McDonald said.
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