Voters have been on a bit of a wild ride this election season, and most people have plenty of capital-O opinions about this year's presidential candidates. With tensions running high and both major candidates fairly close in polls, many are predicting record-breaking voter turnout this year, both for early voting and on Election Day itself. If this is your first time voting — or hey, even if it's your 14th — it's important to know what your rights are as a voter when you head off to do your civic duty.
Understanding voters' rights may even help soothe some concerned citizens' worries about a "rigged" election or voter fraud conspiracies. There are ways that people can interfere with a fair election, but knowing your rights gives you the power to know if that's happening. After all, knowing how to vote on Election Day and dropping a ballot in for your chosen candidate is an important part of maintaining a fair and representative government — but to keep the voting process entirely democratic, it's equally important for American citizens to be aware of where they stand and what legal protections and privileges they're afforded.
Before you double-check your registration, grab your ID, and head to the polls, make sure you know and understand these key points.
You're Allowed To Vote...
If you're a U.S. citizen, over 18 years old, and meet residency rules for your state, guess what? You're eligible to vote!
... Even If Your Name's Not On The List
If you're a registered voter but your name isn't on your precinct's list, vote anyway. You'll have to use a provisional ballot, but if election officials confirm that you're eligible to vote, your vote will be counted.
People Aren't Allowed To Intimidate Or Threaten You
If anyone so much as tries to threaten, intimidate, or coerce you into voting for a certain candidate, they can be fined $10,000 or imprisoned for up to a year. So next time your pushy uncle tries to lure you over to the dark side (whatever that dark side may be for you), maybe let him in on this helpful little fact.
You Can Keep Your Vote Totally Secret
It may seem like everyone and their mother is weighing in on this election on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram and their front lawn), but it's totally up to you whether you want to share your voting choice with your partner, Facebook friends, or anyone at all.
If You Waited In Line, You Get To Vote
Luckily, polls are nothing like your favorite bar on a busy night. If you're waiting in line when the polls close, by law you're allowed to enter and cast your vote.
Fire Off As Many Questions As You Please
If you have a question about the election process, pipe up. Election officials need to either answer your question or send you on to someone who can. (Take note, though, trolls: this does not mean you get to be an awful human being. If you're disrupting anything, officials are totally allowed to stop answering your questions.)
Nobody Can Ask You For Extra ID
Different states have different laws regarding the ID you do (or don't) need to bring to the polls. No one is allowed to ask you for more identification than is legally required in your state.
Get The Help You Need
This plays out in several ways. First of all, you can have anyone you want help you cast your ballot, as long as they don't employ you or represent you in a union (because, hey, problematic). Second, polling places need to accessible for everyone, so election officials need to ensure that the elderly or those with disabilities can vote. Voting aids should be at your polling station as well.
No One Can Offer You Shiny Pennies For Voting
It's illegal to bribe someone in order to get them to vote, not vote, or vote for someone in particular. So even if you really, really, really want your 19-year-old daughter to do her civic duty, you're not allowed to bait her with the promise of a new laptop in exchange.
You Don't Have To Speak English To Vote
If enough people in your precinct's area speak a language other than English, your precinct needs to have instructions available in that language.
If You Make A Mistake, Try, Try Again
If you haven't cast your ballot yet, but you've accidentally scribbled on your ballot or changed your mind mid-checkmark, you can ask for a new ballot.
Report Any Fraudulent Or Illegal Activity
There has never been a better time to be a tattle-tale. If you see or experience anything fraudulent or illegal while voting, good God, let someone know about it. Call 866-OUR-VOTE to reach the Election Protection Hotline and help keep the election process fair and democratic.
Now that you know your voting rights, get out there, cast your empowered ballot, and make sure your friends know their rights, too.