Know your rights before you go to vote

Published 3:04 am Monday, October 6, 2008

By Staff
If the Radical Right has its way this November, the presidency will not be won by the groundswell of support from loyalists flocking to the polls for their candidate. It will be by the massive numbers of voters that are effectively kept from the polls.
There’s no shortage of examples. In Macomb County, Mich., the Republican Party is recruiting poll challengers whose job on Election Day is to keep people from voting. Reports indicate that the party is planning to dispatch poll challengers with lists of foreclosed homes. Anyone unlucky enough to be caught up in the mortgage crisis will, if the GOP has its way, lose his or her right to vote, too.
In Montgomery County, Va., last month, where Virginia Tech is located, the county registrar incorrectly claimed that if students were to register at their college address, they could lose their scholarships, their parents could no longer claim the students as dependents on their tax returns and corporations could revoke students’ right to be covered on their parents’ car or health insurance.
These are examples of voter suppression, pure and simple. And it’s no stretch of the imagination to see that some people have a vested interested in keeping certain voters away from the polls.
The days of literacy tests and poll taxes may be over, but there are many ways to keep people off the voting rolls and out of the voting booth through rules and administrative interpretations. In addition to the transparent suppression attempts, there are a number of obscure tactics that are in play that could keep hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from the polls — long lines due to poorly trained poll workers, inadequate staffing or machine failures, inequitable distribution of voting machines, improper instructions on when to offer provisional ballots and strict voter ID requirements and poll-worker confusion about when to ask for an ID.
Who pays the price? Traditionally disenfranchised communities — students, minorities, the elderly, voters who are disabled, those whose first language is not English and low-income communities, where resources for all services — including voting — are often scarce.
Through election protection efforts in the winter and spring, People For the American Way heard complaints from people unable to vote in the primaries, and because of recently passed voter-ID laws in some states, new technology that’s inconsistent from year to year and the sheer number of voters turning out, we expect even more confusion in November.
What can you do to make sure that you can cast a ballot that counts this November? The right information can help ensure that you can cast a vote that counts.
Know what forms of identification are accepted at the polls. Photo ID requirements vary by state. Take advantage of early voting, which is offered in some states. (Check with your local elections office for information on locations, dates and times.) If English is not your first language and you require assistance reading and casting your ballot on Election Day, you may choose someone to assist you. In some circumstances, you may even be able to get voting materials in alternate languages. Ask your local election office which machine you will be using on Election Day. Familiarize yourself and don’t be scared to ask for assistance if you are unsure how to cast your vote.
We’ve heard this before, but we must say it again — the stakes could not be higher. This election will determine the leadership of our nation in the face of a downtrodden economy, a military stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, high unemployment and massive damage wreaked by Katrina and more recent hurricanes.
Our country is at its best when “we the people” are full participants in the democratic process. This November, don’t let others stop you from exercising your fundamental rights. Make sure that you are well-informed. Know your rights!