5 Mistakes You're Making at the Voting Booth

List of Problems to Avoid on Election Day

Voting can be a stressful experience. You get hounded at the polling places by campaign volunteers hawking literature. You wait in line, at least in places where voter participation tends to be robust. You have trouble making up your mind who to vote for because of all the conflicting information on issues.  

And for what?

The chances your single vote will make a difference, that it will will actually decide the outcome of a race, are almost nil.

But if you're going to vote, more power to you. It's your right. Exercise it. By all means.

Just know that you should never, ever make these common mistakes.

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Going to the Polls on the Wrong Day

Voting booths
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Yes, this actually happens. You head out the door extra early, hoping to cast your ballot before going to work, only to find a darkened, empty building and no one around.

Related Story: Why We Vote On the Tuesday after the first Monday in November  

While the fall elections are held on the same day across the United States, individual states schedule their own primaries. Save yourself the trouble and embarrassment: Make sure you check with your local or state elections officials to find out when the primary is being held. 

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Not Knowing Who to Vote For

Let's face it: The issues facing America today are extraordinarily complex. Global warming. Social Security insolvency. The National Security Agency's data collection program. Health care reform

It's more difficult than ever to stay on top of all the issues, and where the candidates stand on fixing them. Pay attention to your local newspaper in the days and weeks leading up to an election. Most of them will publish a voters guide containing bios of the candidates appearing on your local ballot, and explanations of where they stand on issues important to you and your community. 

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Leaving Your Identification at Home

It's true that not all states require voters to show identification before they vote. But even if your state doesn't ask for ID, you should still have your government-issued ID such as a driver's license of voter registration card handy.

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Not Having a Backup Plan

Even if you get to the polls on the right day, Election Day, you know who you're voting for and you have the proper identification, things can still go wrong. 

Maybe the ballots are confusing. Maybe you're concerned about a lack of privacy at the polling place or there are no accommodations for disabled Americans.

What now? 

As an emergency plan, you should know the telephone numbers of your county's elections office. If you run into any of these problems, call your board of elections or file a grievance. You can also speak to a judge of elections or other people on duty who can help you at the polling place.

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Showing Up at the Wrong Polling Place

This problem isn't as unusual as it would seem. Elections officials routinely move polling places as voting districts change shape and size. So the place where you voted 12 years ago might not be your precinct anymore.  

Related Story: What is Early Voting?

In some cases you'll be able to cast a provisional ballot, but you'll be required to show up to your elections office to prove you are who you said you were when you voted. It might be just as easy to drive over to the right polling place - if you know where it is. 

Check your county elections office before Election Day to make sure you know where you're going.