Know Your Rights At The Voting Booth: From Selfies To Scare Tactics

With less than a week to go, you think you've got everything you need to vote.

Your voter registration is in; you’ve prioritized your campaign issues, checked on what down-ballot races you need to know about, and picked the perfect Instagram filter for your post-voting selfie. All you have to do now is actually cast your ballot!

Hopefully, you’ll make it to the polls without a hitch. But you can’t discount the possibility that you’ll run into a snag — so it’s best to be prepared. The fact of the matter is that the law doesn’t just enshrine your right to vote, but also your ability to exercise that right.

Refinery29 talked to Julie Ebenstein, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, on what voters should know before they go.

“What I hate to see is people say, ‘Well, there's an ID law in effect and I don’t have an ID, so never mind, I just won’t go.’ Or, ‘My registration is not showing up on the state’s website, so something must have gotten messed up with my registration, I just won’t go,’” Ebenstein says.

Unfortunately, because each state runs its own election, your rights may change depending on where you live.

“For better or worse, it’s a patchwork of rules that apply nationwide,” says Ebenstein. She recommends going to your state’s election website in advance to brush up on what you need to know about IDs, polling places, and more. “The same as you would if you were going to a restaurant or doing anything else that day, just spending a few minutes to make sure you know where you’re going and you know what you need,” she says.

Oftentimes, problems can be worked out at the polls with a polite assertion of your rights. But if you need backup, you can reach out to the Election Protection hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE), which provides a resource for voters who need help or information. You can access the number now through Election Day.

And because we know you're all curious — only 22 states, plus Washington D.C., explicitly allow you to snap a selfie in the voting booth itself.

Ahead, here's what to know on Election Day.

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You have the right to cast a ballot — no matter what. (You might have to take extra steps to get it counted, though.)

The Help Americans Vote Act guarantees your right to cast a provisional ballot, no matter what. If you don’t have proper ID, or you don’t appear on your polling place’s list of voters, don't give up. “If the poll worker can’t confirm or verify your registration when you’ve come to cast your ballot, at the very least, you can cast a paper ballot,” Ebenstein says. “Your eligibility will be determined, and if you’re eligible, the vote will be counted.”

She encourages people to work through voting difficulties, rather than ever being turned away from their polling places. “They shouldn’t get discouraged if there’s a problem. At the very least, they should cast a provisional ballot, which they’re entitled to do under federal law.”

If the problem is your ID, you have the right to cast your provisional ballot and provide identification after the fact. Most states have a three to five day period in which they will accept ID for a provisional ballot to be counted. You can check your state’s specific laws here.

One caveat? You should be in the right polling place. “In some states, you have to vote at your assigned polling place. If you don’t vote at your assigned polling place, you go to the wrong one, your ballot’s not counted,” Ebenstein says.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You have the right to an accessible polling place.

The Americans With Disabilities Act covers voting, too. You have the right to an accessible polling place, or reasonable accommodations if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to access your polling place.

Since many polling places are public spaces, like schools or public buildings that are already subject to the ADA, accessibility is sometimes a non-issue. But if you have a medical condition or other impairment that makes it difficult to access your polling place, you have the right to assistance, such as written instead of spoken instructions if you have a hearing impairment, the right to bring someone to help you vote if you’re visually impaired (though your helper cannot be associated with your employer or union), and a place to sit while you wait if you have difficulty standing in line.

If the only option for a polling place is truly inaccessible, there are still alternatives, including a practice called curbside voting available in some states.

“If you do have a disability that prevents you from going into the polling place, oftentimes the election officials can come out and assist you where you are with casting your ballot,” Ebenstein says. Officials are also required to make sure that you maintain your right to privacy in casting your ballot, whether or not you’re in a public space. “So, there are methods of making voting accessible for folks with disabilities,” she says.

While you can also vote by absentee ballot, you have the right to cast your ballot in person if you prefer. “Any alternative method of voting must offer voters with disabilities an equally effective opportunity to cast their votes in person,” the U.S. Department of Justice instructs.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You (might) have the right to miss work.

Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the patchwork of differing state laws will make things a little complicated.

Some states require that employees be allowed to take a certain amount of time away from their workplace in order to vote, if they don't have enough time to make it to the polls outside of work hours. Of those states, the rules vary on whether it’s paid time off, who determines when you take the time, or how much time can be taken (usually an hour or two), and when you're required to notify your boss that you'll need the time. Some states, however, don’t require employers to make any accommodations to allow you to vote.

If your work schedule is intense and you think you won’t make it to the polls on Election Day, there are still options. “If somebody thinks that they can’t go to the polling places on Election Day, they should consider requesting an absentee ballot," says Ebenstein. “I think that’s really the best course of action.”
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You have the right to vote, no matter what language you speak.

Speaking English is not a requirement to cast a ballot. Nor is being able to read.

A provision of the Voting Rights Act requires that in any jurisdiction where 10,000 people, or more than 5% of the total voting age population, speak a minority language, voting information provided in English must also be available in the minority language. This means not only the ballot, but also voter registration material, notices about polling places, and informative pamphlets must also be produced in the minority language, or languages, if more than one tongue qualifies.

“My neighborhood includes Spanish and Chinese, for example,” Ebenstein says. “The Miami-Dade ballot includes Spanish and Haitian Creole.”

But if your language doesn’t qualify, that doesn’t mean your ability to vote disappears. You have the right to language assistance if needed. “Voting in person is actually a great way to deal with it,” Ebenstein says. “Sometimes they’ll have interpreters on hand for a number of different languages, but you’re also entitled to bring someone with you. Usually you go alone into the polling booth, but you are entitled to have somebody with you, assisting you, if you need language or literacy assistance.” However, your assistant cannot be associated with your employer or your union, should you have one.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You (might) have the right to vote, even if you’ve been convicted of a crime.

“There’s a misconception, I think, nationally, that anyone with a prior felony conviction can’t vote,” Ebenstein says. “It’s actually not true. The rules vary, and sometimes vary very heavily, from state to state.”

According to ACLU data, only three states — Florida, Kentucky, and Iowa — actually disqualify convicted felons from voting for life. Others restrict voting for some people convicted of a felony, but not all. And two states, Vermont and Maine, don’t restrict voting at all — even if you’re actively incarcerated, you have the right to cast a ballot.

“There are some states in which you can vote even when you’re in prison. You never lose your right to vote,” Ebenstein says. “There are some states in which you lose your right to vote but they automatically reinstate it when you finish a jail or prison term, or [have] completed a sentence. Even someone who’s been charged with a crime but hasn’t been convicted has not lost their right to vote, unless, of course, they’re on probation for a prior conviction.”

Ebenstein encourages individuals with criminal records who are unsure of their voting status to contact the ACLU or their state’s election officials to find out what their local rules are. “I always just hate for someone to be discouraged from voting due to misinformation. Don’t assume you can’t vote because of a prior conviction,” she says. “You may have already had your voting rights restored.”
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You have the right to not be harassed or intimidated.

With allegations that the election is rigged and calls for citizen oversight of the voting process, this one is hugely important.

"There’s been a lot of talk leading into this election about whether private citizens are going to show up at the polls to watch other people vote,” Ebenstein says. “It’s important for people to keep in mind that it’s against federal law to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for the purpose of interfering with their right to vote. That should be reported immediately.” You can go to an election official, call the Election Protection hotline, or, as a worst-case scenario, even call the police.

Of course, the most important thing is to not put your safety at risk. “We would certainly not advise people to try to handle all of these issues themselves” in the event of an unsafe situation, Ebenstein warns. Besides the Election Protection hotline, the Department of Justice also has a number — (800) 253-3931 — should you need to get information or report misconduct. “If [there's harassment] at the polling place, they can always go and report it,” Ebenstein says.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You have the right to file a complaint.

Hopefully, you’re educated on your rights, confident, and ready to cast your vote come Tuesday. But should things go awry, you have recourse.

If there’s confusion, or you feel that your rights are misunderstood or not being respected, you can talk to polling officials at your polling place. Should that get you nowhere, Ebenstein says, many states have public phone numbers that you can ask for “if you have questions that are not being resolved.”

“Write down the details of whatever you are given, so you can follow up if you need to follow up,” she advises. “Generally, the poll worker is not the final say in exercising your fundamental right to vote.”

Should things go really bad, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section takes complaints online and by phone. Of course, this should be a last resort — while it may feel good to vent frustration, filing a complaint after the fact might not help you cast your ballot. That, above all, should be the priority.

“Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but make sure the problems get resolved,” Ebenstein says.