Election 2020: What are your rights at the polls?

For most Miami Valley residents, voting is a smooth process and local experts say that should hold true this election.

“Generally, the boards of elections go out of their way to make sure that people can vote,” said Susan Hesselgesser, executive director of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area. “It’s safe to vote and you can trust the people at the boards of elections.”

Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney at the public interest law firm Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Dayton, said poll workers are well trained and should be able to help you with any snags in the process, but it is conceivable an individual worker might be unaware of a rule.

To make sure your vote counts, here is what you need to know about your rights at the polls.

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Where do I vote?

To vote before Election Day in-person, you can go to your county board of elections during designated hours.

To vote on Election Day, you must cast your ballot at your designated polling location. Going to the wrong polling location is one of the most common issues voters have, Jacobs said. Some polling locations have changed. To find your polling place, contact your county board of elections or visit ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/toolkit/polling-location.

What kind of identification do I need to vote in-person?

Any of the following are acceptable forms of identification at the polls:

  • An unexpired Ohio driver’s license or other photo ID issued by the state
  • Military ID
  • A utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or government check from the last year that includes your name and current address
  • Any other current government document that includes your name and current address, except a voter registration notice

Note that an unexpired ID issued by Ohio with your former address is acceptable when your current address is in the poll book. Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, driver’s licenses or state identification cards set to expire on or after March 9, 2020 remain valid through the Nov. 3 election.

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What if I am told I am not in the poll book, but I believe I’m registered to vote?

If you believe you’re registered to vote, you should check if you are in the right polling location. You can ask the poll workers to help you look up your correct polling location. If that isn’t the problem, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot.

What is a provisional ballot?

If your eligibility as a voter is in question, you may cast a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot has the same contents as a regular ballot but is not counted until election officials can verify your eligibility to vote in that precinct in that election.

During the 2016 general election in Ohio, in which over 5.6 million Ohioans voted, only 154,965 provisional ballots were cast, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Of those provisional ballots, 131,987, or about 85%, were counted and the rest were rejected, mostly because the people who cast them were not registered to vote in Ohio.

“You don’t want to vote a provisional ballot,” Jacobs said. "The first time somebody offers it, you’ll probably want to say, ‘What’s the problem, let’s see if we can resolve it.’ But if the problem can’t be resolved, then you vote a provisional ballot … it becomes a failsafe mechanism.”

After casting a provisional ballot, in most scenarios, you will not need to provide any additional information to election officials. If you do not provide an acceptable ID when you cast your provisional ballot, you must appear in person at your county board of elections to provide ID within seven days of Election Day for your ballot to count.

What scenarios would require me to cast a provisional ballot?

  • You recently changed your address and did not update your voter registration.
  • You do not have the required proof of identity.
  • You requested an absentee ballot.
  • Your name does not appear on the official poll list for that precinct. One reason for this could be because your name was purged from the voter rolls due to inactivity.
  • Your name is marked on the poll list or signature book with a notation that registration mailings have been returned as undeliverable.
  • Your voter registration has been challenged.
  • Your signature in the opinion of the precinct officers does not match the signature on your registration form.

Note that if you have changed your name but have not updated your voter registration, you may vote a regular ballot as long as you provide proof of a legal name change, such as a marriage license or court order that includes your current and prior names. You will be asked to complete a change of name form at your polling location.

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What are some other rights I have that I should know about?

  • If the polls close while you’re still in line, you have the right to vote.
  • If you make a mistake on your ballot, you can ask for a new one.
  • Under federal law, all polling places must be accessible to older and disabled voters unless an exemption was granted.
  • If you need help filling out your ballot, you can bring someone with you into the voting booth, except an agent of your employer or union or a candidate who appears on the ballot.
  • County boards of elections must offer curbside voting for voters who are physically unable to enter a polling location or concerned about entering a polling location, including COVID-19 positive voters. Two election officials from the major political parties will bring a ballot to you in your car or at the door of the building. You can call your county board of elections to arrange for curbside voting or go to the BOE or your polling location and send someone in to request assistance.
  • Voters who show up to vote without a face mask will be offered a disposable mask. If you refuse to wear it, you’ll be asked to curbside vote. If you refuse to curbside vote, you’ll still be permitted to vote in person.

Who can I call if I have questions on or before Election Day?

  • League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area at 937-228-4041
  • Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683); your call will be directed to volunteers in Ohio, including members from the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition
  • Your county board of elections
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