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Voter Essentials
October 3, 2008
Imagine that it's November fourth, election day. You've read up on all the candidates, local and national, and are ready to cast an informed vote. You get off work a little early and head to the polls.

But after waiting in line, you find out you are not on the voter rolls.

You argue with the poll worker — you've voted before! They don't know why you aren't on the list, and weren't trained on what to do. Frustrated and embarassed, you leave without voting.

Scenes like this happen more often than you might think, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. The study found that "thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls between 2004 and 2006." And while affirming that purges correctly-done are an important way to ensure voter rolls are dependable and up-to-date, the study found that:
"Far too frequently, however, eligible, registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists. States maintain voter rolls in an inconsistent and unaccountable manner. Officials strike voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation."

Though the report notes that the "secret and inconsistent manner in which purges are conducted make it difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly how many voters are stricken from voting lists erroneously," it lists multiple instances where tens of thousands of voters were improperly stricken from the rolls.

Protecting Your Vote
The Brennan Center report offers long-term solutions to ensure every eligible voter has a chance to vote. But the 2008 election is just around the corner, and what if you or someone you know is purged?

Election Protection, a non-partisan coalition, offers voter education and protection through an informational Web site and an election hot-line (1-866-OUR-VOTE). They've also offer a useful voting checklist flyer you can print out and bring with you to the poll.

The Election Protection voting checklist:

Be sure you are properly registered.
Most states require voters to register in advance of an election (though some allow voters to register on Election Day). Deadlines range from 3 to 30 days before an election. To find out if you are properly registered, confirm your address, obtain a copy of a voter registration form, or learn about registration deadlines in your state, call 866-OUR-VOTE or, for more information about registration rules in your state go to

Be sure you go to the correct polling place.
In many states, if you vote at the wrong location, your vote will not be counted. If you are unsure exactly where to vote, find your polling location by calling 866-OUR-VOTE or by going to

Find out your options for convenient voting.
Many states allow individuals to vote prior to Election Day, either in person or by absentee ballot. Absentee voters typically must request an absentee ballot in advance. To learn about the options in your state, including how to obtain an absentee ballot, visit, or call 866-OUR-VOTE.

Find out if you are required to show ID.
Every state has identification requirements for at least some categories of voters. Find out the rules for your state by visiting, or calling 866-OUR-VOTE.

Review sample ballots and information about candidates and issues.
If you familiarize yourself with the layout and instructions of the ballot, you can prevent mistakes when you go to vote. Some local election officials will provide you a sample ballot if you request one. Also, know who and what you're voting for — you can research all candidates and ballot issues by contacting local civic groups or visiting If you have questions, concerns or problems, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Trained volunteers for the nation's largest non-partisan voter protection effort are available to answer your questions and help make sure your vote counts.

Published October 3, 2008.

References and Reading:
Voting Resources

League of Women Voters: Election 2008
A nonpartisan public interest organization, their election Web site offers voter registration, ballot information, and information on voting in your state.

National Association of Secretaries of State
Nonpartisan professional organization for Secretaries of State. Web site collects state by state information about voting laws.
A nonpartisan, non-advocacy Web site providing current news and analysis on election reform.

Brennan Center: Vote Purges
A report about the worrisome state state of voter roles in the US.
The Web site of Election Protection, a coalition of non-partisan groups supporting voter education and protection.

Published October 3, 2008

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