Experts are predicting near-record highs for voter turnout in the midterm elections this year — which, unfortunately, may mean that voters encounter a near-record number of issues as they try to cast their ballots. Exercising your right to vote should, in theory, be a straightforward act, but any number of obstacles can arise, from the professional (getting time off to vote) to the logistical (finding a ride) to the legal (voter intimidation and harassment).

Which means that one of the best things you can do in advance of Election Day is prepare for the worst. Here’s how to recognize problems as they arise, and how to have a plan in place to make sure your vote will be counted.


Before Election Day

If you’re not sure about your registration…

Before you make any other preparations, double-check that you’re registered to vote, especially since some states have been purging voter rolls. If you find that your name was one of the ones removed, you may still be able to vote if you live in a state that allows same-day registration. And if you’ve confirmed that you’re still on the rolls, it doesn’t hurt to double-check your polling place.

“The major thing I see preventing people from voting on Election Day is not being registered to vote when they thought they were,” says attorney Robert S. Herbst, an election inspector in New York. “To prevent that, one should check with their local Board of Elections ahead of time. Another issue is not being registered in their district. Again, they should check beforehand, especially if they have moved since the last election.”

If you’re worried about taking time off to vote…

As a first step, get to know your state’s voting laws — most, but not all, require employers to allow workers a certain amount of time off to vote, but the details will vary from state to state. If you live in California, for example, you can request up to two hours of paid leave at the beginning or end of your shift if you ask at least two days in advance, but your employer is not required to give you that time if you can vote during non-working hours. In Nevada, the amount of time an employer is required to grant depends on the distance between work and the employee’s polling place. In Ohio, there’s no concrete time limit, but whether the time off is paid or unpaid depends on whether the worker is salaried. Other states don’t guarantee time off to vote, but some cities may have local ordinances that do.

If you believe you haven’t been given adequate time to vote, consider taking advantage of early voting, which is still going on in many places, or contact a local election official for assistance. You can find your election officials by visiting USA.gov/election-office.

If you’re worried about transportation…

Before voting day arrives, make sure you know the location of your designated polling place. This information should be listed on your voter registration card, but you can also look it up on your state’s website or Vote.org.

If you don’t have a way to get there, map out your route on public transportation or arrange a carpool. Both Uber and Lyft have pledged to help voters reach their polling places by offering free rides on voting day — though if you intend to take advantage of this, be prepared for a long wait, as more people than usual may be using the services.

On Election Day

If you arrive and your name isn’t on the voter roll…

If you believe your omission from the poll book is an honest mistake, double-check that you’re in the right place and then request a provisional ballot.

“Errors happen, but you still have a right to vote,” explains Michael Montgomery, a nonprofit consultant and lecturer at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. “You fill out a form called an affidavit, attesting that you’re registered, and your ballot goes into an envelope to be opened after any question about your eligibility to vote is cleared up.” You should also make sure to request a receipt, which will give you the information you’ll need to follow up and make sure your vote was counted.

Whatever you do, don’t leave without casting a provisional ballot first.

If you think your omission from the poll book is purposeful and malicious, you may be experiencing voter intimidation. Call the hotline of the Election Protection Coalition, a national, nonpartisan voting-rights organization, at 866-OUR-VOTE, and they will try to send someone to help if one of their volunteers isn’t already stationed at your polling place. Whatever you do, don’t leave without casting a provisional ballot first.

If your ID isn’t accepted by poll workers…

Not all states require you to show an ID to vote, so make sure to investigate your state’s policies before election day. In 34 states, you must show some form of identification, and seven of these states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin — explicitly require a valid photo ID.

If you believe your ID is valid, but poll workers don’t accept it, or if they’re requesting ID when it isn’t legally required, appeal to another poll worker or supervisor. The next step is to report the issue to the Election Protection Coalition, which will have volunteers stationed at polling places across the country, or another organization that’s provided election monitors.

“In some instances, if it happens quickly enough, what we can do is even try to resolve the issue while the voter is still at the polling location,” says Sophia Lakin, a staff lawyer with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “So there is that possibility that we’ll be able to talk to the county commissioner and have them call the local polling location and say, ‘Hey, those types of IDs are actually accepted. You shouldn’t be turning people away.’”

Even if there’s no one there to help you in person, you should still report any issues to a voting-rights entity or to your political party. And once again, make sure to at least cast a provisional ballot.

If you’re experiencing voter intimidation…

Voter intimidation is an umbrella term encompassing anything that presents deliberate and aggressive interference with a person’s right to vote. According to the ACLU, possible instances of voter intimidation — which is most likely to happen to people of color and non-English speakers — include lying about being an election official, aggressively questioning someone about their right to vote, deliberately spreading false information about voting requirements, using signs about voter fraud to scare people away from voting, or intentionally harassing voters, especially based on race, religion, or spoken language. Under federal law, any intimidation, threats, or coercion around voting is illegal and punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both.

If you witness anything like this, report it “to the poll workers who are working, the county clerks or election commissioners, or other higher-ups in the election hierarchy in your state, like the State Board of Elections,” Lakin says, in addition to calling it into a voter hotline. Besides Election Protection Coalition, additional hotlines are maintained by the Department of Justice, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and a number of minority groups, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, APIAVote, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Arab American Institute, and the NAACP. Make sure to tell someone what you’ve seen: The more reports an election entity gets, the more likely they are to send someone to solve the problem.

If someone’s asking you inappropriate questions…

Some questions are off-limits for poll workers, especially if the questioner is aggressive. If a poll worker asks you one of these questions, you may be experiencing voter intimidation, and you are not required to answer:

  • Are you a citizen?
  • Do you have a criminal record?
  • Can you read and write?
  • What is your country of origin?
  • How long have you lived in this country?
  • What is your religion?
As a rule of thumb, if a question makes you uncomfortable, you can decline to answer.

Other questions, especially those that do not pertain to voting, may also be red flags — including questions about whether or not you speak English, which is not a requirement to cast your vote. Ballots must be made available to you in your language of origin, and most polling places will have ballots ready to accommodate languages commonly spoken in your region.

As a rule of thumb, if a question makes you uncomfortable, you can decline to answer. You can also call one of the hotlines mentioned above to report voter intimidation.

If your polling place isn’t accessible…

Polling place accessibility is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even so, according to the Department of Justice, nearly three-quarters of polling places in 2008 “had architectural barriers that made it difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to enter their polling place and vote side by side with their neighbors.”

If you foresee running into difficulties, request an absentee ballot or call your polling place in advance to discuss accommodations. Federal law requires that the polling place attempt modifications that will allow you to vote in your designated facility; if modifications will not fix the building’s accessibility issues, you will be assigned an alternative polling place. Election administrators can also use an “alternative method of voting,” such as curbside voting where a volunteer brings the ballot to your car. You can also call the ADA Information Line at 800–514–0301 (voice), 800–514–0383 (TTY), or an election hotline, and someone will assist you.

If the polls close when you’re waiting in line…

Don’t go anywhere. As long as you’re in line while the polls are still open, you are entitled to vote,” Lakin says.

Even though this is the law, your poll workers might not know that. Try talking to them first. If you can, pull up the law on your phone. If that doesn’t work, call an election hotline.

You can also call your county election official or someone on the board of election supervisors.

“This is something that came up a couple times in my experience,” says Lakin. “Sometimes we were able to get the polling location open again pretty quickly.”

Whatever happens, remain calm. Call for help if you need it. In most situations, poll workers and volunteers will be able to solve any problems and allow you to cast your vote.

If you want backup….

It doesn’t hurt to have these numbers programmed into your phone, just in case. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but you still might know someone who will.

  • Election Protection Hotline: (866) OUR-VOTE
  • Department of Justice Voting Rights: (800) 253–3931 (toll free) or (202) 307–2767
  • APIAVote: 1–888-API-VOTE (1–888–274–8683)
  • National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund: (888) VE-Y-VOTA (1–888–839–8682)
  • Arab American Institute Yalla Vote Hotline: (844) 418–1682
  • NAACP: (866) My-Vote-1 (1–866–698–6831)
  • ADA Information Line: (800) 514–0301 (voice), (800) 514–0383 (TTY)