Requirements for Voting in Federal Elections

Tips and Suggestions for Dealing With the Unexpected

It's Election Day, and you're late for work. You want to fulfill your civic duty but your schedule's tight. You know there's a chance your vote could make a difference, but you're not sure where the candidates stand on the most important issues of the day.

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How can you get in and out of your polling place with minimum hassle? Simple. Know the requirements for voting in federal elections, and be prepared.

Here's a list of things you should carry with you to the polling place:

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Pennsylvania Voter ID Card
This is a government-issued voter identification card in Pennsylvania. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

A growing number of states have passed controversial voter-identification laws requiring citizens to prove they're really who they say they are before entering the voting booth. Before heading out to vote, make sure you know your state's laws and what passes for acceptable identification.

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Many states with such voter laws accept driver's licenses and any similar government-issued photo identification, including those for military members, state or federal employees and university students.

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Voter Registration Card

Voter Registration Card
This is a sample voter registration card issued by a local government. Will County, Illinois

So you've proven you are who you say you are, thanks to your valid identification. But what if elections officials in your town can't find any record of you actually being registered to vote?

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Most jurisdictions are required to issue voter registration cards every few years, and they will show your name, address, polling place, and in some cases party affiliation. If you're carrying this on Election Day, you're in good shape.

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Important Phone Numbers

Vote sign
A sign instructs Floridians on where to vote in the 2012 primary. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

You've got your photo ID and your voter registration card. Things can still go wrong. They can range from a lack of handicapped accessibility, no help for voters with limited English ability, confusing ballots and no privacy inside the voting booth. Fortunately, there are channels through which Americans can report voting problems.

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It's wise to look in your phone book's blue pages or your county's government's website for the phone number of your 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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Voters Guide

League of Women Voters Guide
This a voters guide published by the League of Women Voters. League of Women Voters

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. Also, some good-government groups including the League of Women Voters publish nonpartisan voter's guides that you're allowed to carry with you into the voting booth. A note of caution: Be wary of pamphlets published by special-interest groups or political parties.

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List of Polling Places

Voting booths
Voters cast their ballots in during the Pennsylvania Republican presidential primary in April 2012 in Philadelphia. Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images News

Here's something that's happens in every town, in every election: A voter shows up at what he believes to be his polling place only to be told, "Sorry, sir, but you're at the wrong location," or worse, there's no polling place there anymore.

Showing up at the wrong polling place is not uncommon. In some cases you might be able to cast a provisional ballot, but it might be just as easy to drive over to the right polling place - providing you know where it is. It's a good idea to get a current list of polling places from your town or county. Sometimes they change, and you'll want to stay on top of where you're supposed to be.

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Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "Requirements for Voting in Federal Elections." ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2016, Murse, Tom. (2016, August 23). Requirements for Voting in Federal Elections. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Requirements for Voting in Federal Elections." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).