Be a prepared voter on Election Day

Don’t let a disability keep you away from casting a vote in the Nov. 4 election. Absentee voting is one […]

Don’t let a disability keep you away from casting a vote in the Nov. 4 election. Absentee voting is one great option. Another is casting your voting at polls on Election Day itself. Articles on each are below, as is information on rides to the polls and same-day registration.

On Election Day, all voters should be prepared for long lines and long waits as those are typical during a presidential election. Think about bringing a bottle of water or juice, snack and medications if needed at a specific time. Election judges do work to keep the lines moving but it’s better to prepare for a wait than to have to lose one’s place in line.

Worried about standing for long periods of time? Try to vote with a friend or family member. It’s acceptable to ask election judges if chairs are available. Keep in mind, though, that the judges have to keep the lines moving.

All polling places must be fully accessible to elderly individuals and individuals with disabilities.  This includes clearly marked accessible doors, curb cuts or ramps where necessary and at least one parking space for persons with disabilities near the accessible entrance. If this is not the case, contact local election officials and voice your concerns. Accessibility is the law.

A head election judge can make changes to a polling place on Election Day, such as changing an entrance. But contact local election officials if you believe a facility cannot be made accessible and a different facility has to be found. That change can be made in future elections.

A voter may bring a helper to the polls. Helpers can assist the voter in marking their ballot. It’s best to let the head election judge know that the person accompanying you is your helper. If a voter needs assistance due to a physical inability to mark a ballot, there are restrictions on who can and cannot assist.

These people are restricted from helping a voter: The voter’s employer, an agent of the voter’s employer, an officer or agent of the voter’s union or a candidate for election.

A voter can bring a family member, friend or personal care assistant for help at the polls. Or a voter can ask for assistance from two election judges who are members of different political parties. Ask the head election judge for help. (See Minnesota Statutes, Section 204C.15 for more information.) No person who is not an election judge may assist in the marking of more than three voters’ ballots. Anyone helping a voter mark a ballot is specifically banned from influencing the voter’s choices. Improperly influencing a voter in Minnesota is a gross misdemeanor. That is why it is best to have more than one person assist in marking a ballot. If a voter cannot communicate his or her intent when a ballot is to be marked, the person or persons assisting the voter must not mark the ballot. It is not enough to “know” how the voter would vote. If a voter cannot express his or her preference on the ballot, and cannot direct the helper in marking it, the ballot cannot be marked. Ask the head judge at the precinct for help.

More information about voting rights is at www.sos.state.mn.us or by calling MN Relay Service 711 or 1-877-600-VOTE

Know your voting rights

Often there is confusion surrounding the right to vote. Can voters be developmentally disabled? Can a person with a brain injury vote? What is the voter is experiencing severe memory loss or has some other cognitive impairment?

In Minnesota, only a court may decide whether or not an individual is competent to vote. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, no one else may make that decision. Spouses, caregivers, children, doctors or other medical professionals have no say, even if they are personally convinced that the individual is not competent to vote.

An individual under guardianship, conservatorship or for whom someone has power of attorney still retains the right to vote unless it is specifically revoked by a court. The statute that governs voting rights is Minnesota Statutes Section 524.5-313 (c) (8). Or ask the head election judge at the precinct for further information.

Absentee vote: Skip the long lines

Can’t make it to the polls on Nov. 4? Absentee ballots became available for the general election on October 3, and are available through November 3.

Absentee voting is a method of voting in the event that a voter is unable to reach the voting place on primary or general election day. The ability to vote on your own time is convenient and easy. Absentee voting may be done by mail. Or voters can go to designated voting places during the time period preceding the election. Voters vote in the city or county where they live, so contact the appropriate local government offices.

Absentee ballots can be mailed to elections officials, delivered by an authorized person or cast in person. In most Minnesota communities pre-Election Day absentee ballots are cast at county offices. Contact officials in your home county to find the exact location and times for absentee voting. Absentee voting is allowed if: work, school or other obligations keep a voter out of his or her home precinct on Election Day; illness or disability prevent a voter from going to a polling place, religious discipline or observance prevents a voter from going to a polling place; or the voter is an election judge in another precinct.

Voters who are not registered can register as part of absentee voting. Voters may download an application to receive an absentee ballot through the mail at www.sos.state.mn.us/. When at the Web site voters will be asked to save or open a document, and mark boxes by clicking on them. When the document is filled out, send it to the appropriate county auditor by email (with the document attached) or fax. The ballot and registration information will be mailed out when it is ready. The completed absentee ballot must be received in the correct precinct by Election Day when the polls close. Because requests to have absentee ballots mailed to your home need to be made soon, it’s also worth a call to your city or county elections office to check if ballots can still be mailed.

In some cases, completed absentee ballots can be delivered. Voters can, in writing, authorize someone to deliver a completed absentee ballot if the voter is: a voter who would have difficulty getting to the polls because of incapacitating health reasons or who is disabled; a patient in a healthcare facility (hospitals, residential treatment centers and nursing homes); a participant in a licensed residential program for adults; a resident of a licensed shelter for battered women; and/or a resident of an assisted living facility.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, the following stipulations also apply: The voter must complete the Agent Delivery Designation Form www.sos.state.mn.us/ and the Absentee Ballot Application www.sos.state.mn.us/. An agent (person dropping off the ballot on the voter’s behalf) must have a preexisting relationship with the voter. The agent will use the completed forms to pick up a ballot, bring the ballot to the voter, and return the voted ballot to the county auditor or city clerk. This activity may only occur the seven days preceding an election. Ballots can be picked up until 2 p.m. on Election Day, and voted ballots must be returned by 3 p.m. on Election Day.

Be careful preparing an absentee ballot as mistakes will mean the ballot will not be counted. Some common mistakes made in absentee voting are not signing the application, not signing the voter’s certificate or not having it properly witnessed. Also, note that you cannot drop off an absentee ballot at a voting place on election day. Absentee voting ends the day before Election Day. Only election officials can take absentee ballots to a polling place on Election Day.

For more information, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website’s page on absentee voting at www.sos.state.mn.us/, or call your county’s elections office. Phone and fax numbers for each county are available at the end of the absentee ballot application.

Identity and residency: Keys to Election Day registration

The period to pre-register to vote in the Nov. 4 election expires Oct. 14. Keep in mind that even if you did fill out a registration card at a fair or community event, those cards don’t always get turned in in time for your registration to show up on your local precinct rolls. (This is truer for the primary than it is for the general election.) Fortunately Minnesota offers same-day registration for voters at the polls. United States citizens can register to vote on Election Day if you have lived in Minnesota for 20 days immediately preceding Election Day.

Be aware that not everyone age 18 and older can vote, even if you are a United States citizen. When is voting illegal? Persons under a court-ordered guardianship in which to court has revoked one’s right to vote cannot cast a ballot. If a court finds a person legally incompetent to vote, that person also cannot cast a ballot. Anyone who has not completed a sentence for a felony conviction or not had the sentence discharged cannot vote. This is important to remember because if a felon votes, another felony has been committed. Anyone on probation or with a felony record should contact probation officers or other court staff before voting. Voting is important but it isn’t worth inadvertently committing another crime. When a sentence is finished, including probation, the right to vote is restored.

If you are eligible to vote, but need to register on Election Day, be prepared. The key is to remember two things: identity and residency. You need to prove who you are and where you live before you can vote at your precinct. Register on Election Day at the polling place. Get a voter registration form from the Minnesota Secretary of State web site at www.sos.state.mn.us or by calling 1-877-600-8683 or the Minnesota Relay Service at 1-800-627-3529. Otherwise, call 1-877-600-8683 for contact information for your community. Filling out a form before voting can save time when you get into the polling place. Large-print voter registration information is also available. Forms are also available in Spanish, Hmong, Somali, Russian and Vietnamese.

Make sure you are at the right polling place by asking for the precinct finder as soon as you arrive. During the busy Nov. 4 general election some precincts will have greeter judges with precinct finders to help you. The precinct finder is a book or list of every address in a city or county, which will tell you where you go to cast a ballot. Once you are at the correct precinct, get out your documents. To prove residency and identity, you may only need one document. This document could be: a valid Minnesota driver’s license; a learners’ permit; a Minnesota ID card; or a receipt for any of these documents containing a valid address in the precinct; a student ID card including your photo, if your college has provided a student housing list to election officials; a tribal ID card that contains your name, photo, signature and address in the precinct; a valid registration in the same precinct under a different name or address; a notice of later registration that was sent to you by your county auditor or city clerk; or an authorized employee of a residential facility where you reside, such as a nursing home or domestic abuse victims’ shelter. The employee must sign an oath to confirm your address, which is on a list provided to election officials.

When you register be ready to write down your Minnesota driver’s license or ID card number or the last four digits of your Social Security number on the form. You may not want to carry your Social Security card so write the last four digits on a slip of paper.

If you do not have any of those documents, you can bring two documents to establish identity and residency. Photo identification that is valid a: Minnesota driver’s license; Minnesota ID card; United States passport; United States Military ID; Minnesota university or technical college ID; or a Tribal card ID.

Once you prove who you are, now you must prove where you live. Proof of residency that is valid includes bills that are due within 30 days of the election; pay attention to the date on the bill. The bill MUST have your address on it. Valid bills include:Gas bill, Telephone bill, Cell phone bill, Water bill, Internet services bill, Electric bill, Solid waste bill, Student fee statement, Rent statement with utilities itemized. Bills printed off of the Internet are valid if they are within 30 days of the election and if they have your address on them. Other bills aren’t valid, which can cause confusion and frustration at the polls. For example, a basic rental lease or receipt isn’t a valid proof of residency under state law. Nor do mortgage documents, vehicle payment receipts, credit card bills or other bills meet the legal requirement to establish residency. Know the proper documents and avoid having to make a trip home. Part of the registration process involves signing an oath. The oath states that you will be at least 18 years old on Election Day and that you are a citizen of the United States. The oath verifies that you meet the residency requirements for the precinct and other legal qualifications for voting. Lying on the registration form is a felony. Another way to register at the polls is to have someone who lives in the precinct vouch for you. This person must be a registered voter in the precinct. There is a limit on the number of persons a voucher can assist with registration. Once registered to vote, voter registration is valid for the next election. It is valid unless a voter moves, change his or her name or does not vote for the next four years.

Keep your politics (and your phone calls) to yourself

Election Day is the culmination of many months of campaigning. It’s the day we vote for candidates of our choice. But displaying political choices inside the polling place is not allowed. When going to vote don’t wear shirts, caps, stickers or buttons supporting a candidate, ballot question or party of your choice. These items cannot be worn inside a polling place. Anyone wearing these items will be asked to remove or conceal them with a jacket or scarf. Cover them up or wear these items after voting.

Don’t carry a sign for a candidate to the polls and don’t bring signs to put outside of the polls. Campaigning cannot legally take place within 100 feet of a polling place. Anyone with a sign will be asked to leave if he is campaigning within the limits. Refuse to leave and law enforcement may be called. It’s typical for a city or county to give a head election judge a map outlining where campaigning can and cannot take place. Anyone with a question may ask to see the map. Don’t bring a newspaper (even Access Press) or political magazine to read in line. These items cannot be taken into the polling place because of bans on political advertising in the polling place. Nor can voters bring in a portable radio or television set. If it’s any consolation election judges aren’t allowed to have these items either. Nor can judges wear political garb or campaign.

Polling places will be very busy Nov. 4 and election judges will not want any distractions. Cell phones are not to be used when a voter is inside the polling place. Before entering the polling place, turn cell phones off. Put away small, hand-held devices, such as a Blackberry. It is legal to bring a sample ballot to the polling place but put it in a pocket or bag before and after voting. Don’t leave sample ballots in the polling place.

How to become an election judge
Most communities need people to serve as election judges, although in many jurisdictions the training period for the Nov. 4 election may have passed. Contact the Secretary of State’s office if you would like election judge contact information for your community, at 1-877-600-8683. Election judges are paid for their services. Each precinct has a head judge who is in charge of the precinct and supervises the other judges. On Election Day judges provide a variety of services to voters, including signing in registered voters, registering new voters, issuing ballots, providing assistance to voters and working with the voting equipment. During busy presidential elections some communities will also have greeter judges. Greeter judges work with people waiting in line, to make sure they are at the correct precinct or determine whether they need assistance with voting.