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What To Do If Your Polling Station Runs Out Of Ballots, Because Every Vote Counts

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Amid what is arguably the most contentious presidential election of a lifetime, voters are turning out in record numbers. But those record numbers could actually lead to problems, like polling stations running out of ballots. It already happened during the March primary elections, which spurred some districts to order more ballots than ever. Beth Kyle, a registrar in West Hartford, Connecticut, told local news site We-Ha.com that after seeing "historic registration" throughout the state, "We ordered 105 percent of needed ballots in advance." Unfortunately, not all registrars had Kyle's foresight, it seems, because voters are already complaining on social media that their polling places are running out of ballots just an hour or two after opening.

One would think that after record-breaking voter registrations, stories of ballots running out during the primaries, and ballots running out yet again during early voting last month, this issue would be under control by now. What makes the issue even more complicated is that every state's voting laws are different, so some districts are unprepared for such a problem, and many voters don't have a clear picture of their voting rights, so they might go willingly if they're turned away at the polls. But a polling place running out of ballots does not supersede your right to vote, and you should not take no for an answer on Election Day.

Generally, when election officials notice that ballots are running low, they'll call for more to be delivered. This could mean a long wait, and Think Progress reported that when ballots ran out in Flint, Michigan, during the primaries, some voters who couldn't stay were forced to leave their phone numbers with poll workers, hoping to come back later. This is, to put it mildly, not ideal. Sue Lloyd, an election commissioner for Buena Vista County, Iowa, told the local Pilot-Tribune newspaper that if her county ran out of paper ballots, voters would be encouraged to use touch-screen voting machines, but unfortunately, not all districts have that option.

Poll workers in Alameda County, California, are instructed to provide voters with sample ballots if the regular ballots run out, and election officials in Texas were told to use leftover early voting ballots, or as a last resort, make photocopies of a regular ballot and hand write new serial numbers on them. There's really no excuse for completely running out of ballots without officials noticing that they're running low, so if anyone tries to turn you away or make you wait for an unreasonable amount of time, make some noise. First, ask for a supervisor. If they're unwilling to help, contact your local officials. The University of Michigan has created a U.S. Election Complaint Portal where you can find contact information for your state. If you're still not able to vote, tweet at your local journalists, and report the issue to Electionland, a media coalition dedicated to tracking election problems. But whatever you do, don't back down. Nobody can take your vote away from you.