This article will deal with four different facets of voting: voter registration, absentee ballots, same day registration, and what to do if you have problems voting when you get to the polling place.
Important Dates to Remember
August 24, 2004: last day to bring in voter registration cards; September 14, 2004: primary elections, from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in most polling places. October 12, 2004: last day to bring in voter registration cards for the general election; November 2, 2004: Election Day: from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00p.m. in most polling places.
There are so many places to register to vote that there is no excuse this year for not registering. Most state departments will hand out voter registration cards upon request and assist in registering you to vote. If you need to renew your drivers license or your Minnesota I.D. card, you have the opportunity to register to vote during that application process. The cities provide voter registration cards in city park buildings, public libraries, fire and police stations, and those places will collect and turn in filled out voter registration cards. Counties have voter registration cards available through their County Auditor’s Office. If you receive social services from your county, you can get a voter registration card and assistance there. You could go to the Secretary of State’s Office and register to vote. You can register to vote on college campuses. Many nonprofit organizations are providing voter registration assistance to their membership or to the public. Any parade or summer event is guaranteed to have a voter registration table. Political party events will, of course, have voter registration opportunities. You can ask for braille or cassette recorded voter registration cards from the Secretary of State’s Office. A blind person would use these forms to tell someone what to fill in on the print form and would then sign and turn in the print form. If you still receive your tax booklets in hard copy, there are voter registration forms enclosed in them as well.
All of the opportunities listed above are considered “in person” registrations, even if someone else actually delivers the filled-out applications for you. It is better to register in person than by mail. If you mail in the card, you may need to provide additional documentation not needed if you don’t mail in the registration but register “in person.”
If your county of residence receives your voter registration in time, it will send to you a verification card that you are registered. If something has been left off your form, and there is still time, the county will try to call or e-mail you, or notify you by mail, to get that information. However, as registration nears its end, the county gets hundreds of registration cards each day and will not necessarily have time to follow up on ones that are flawed. If you don’t receive a card indicating that you are registered, plan on providing documentation to register on the day you actually vote.
If you fill out a card, make sure that either you or the people sponsoring the voter registration drive will be turning the cards in to the county, city or Secretary of State’s Office within 10 days. If the cards are not turned in within 10 days of the date on which they were filled out, they will not be validated. If that happens, you will have to register at the polling place on election day.
The Voter Registration Form
Question #1, which contains boxes at the top of the form, must be filled out. You cannot vote if you are not a U.S. citizen and if you are not 18 years or older on election day. If you don’t fill these boxes in, your form will not be complete, and you will not be registered.
Questions 2 through 9 indicate where you are located, and your address. If you have moved since the last time you registered, you will need to fill out a new registration with your new address and phone number.
For questions 10a and 10b, you should fill in the drivers license number or state I.D. number if you have one. If you don’t, then fill in 10b which asks for the last four digits of your social security number. If you have neither a license, state i.d. or social security number, you must put “none” for 10a and 10b. Then the state will assign you a voter registration number.
You must answer questions 12 and 13 if you have either changed your name since the last election where you were registered, or have moved to a new address since you last registered. This could include wanting to register on a college campus as opposed to where you previously lived, or it could include a change of name because you were married or divorced since the last time you registered.
Question 14 asks if you want information about being an election judge. In counties or cities where there is still time to apply, I strongly recommend that people with disabilities or advocates become election judges. It is a lot of hard work, but if you have the stamina it’s very rewarding. You do have to be able to read and write print so, for the time being, that leaves out persons who are totally blind. You also must be able to speak English. Even if you can’t be an election judge for this election, you can get information and decide to apply to be an election judge for the next election.
Question 15 is one of the most important questions on the form because you are asked to verify the truth of your answers by signing your name or putting a check mark if you can’t sign your name. If you intentionally lie on your voter registration application, you can be convicted of a felony, and incarcerated for up to five years or pay a fine of up to $10,000.You certify here that you: will be at least 18 years old on Election Day, are a U.S. citizen, have resided in Minnesota for 20 days immediately preceding Election Day, the address on the form is your residence. The last three statements which you are certifying are important enough to be discussed separately.
You must certify that you are “not under court-ordered guardianship where you have not retained the right to vote,” or you have “not been found by a court to be legally incompetent to vote.” Guardianship is discussed in a separate article in this same issue, so please read that article for further information on that subject.
Restoration of Rights after a Felony
In Question 15, you are asked also to certify that, if you were convicted of a felony, your civil rights have been restored. Anyone convicted of a felony, who is either serving time, on probation, or on parole cannot vote. After one has finished their time, including parole, civil rights are supposed to be restored. It is unclear whether or not all former inmates receive adequate notice that their civil rights have been restored. If you have finished parole and have been released from any further obligation to a jail or corrections facility of the state or county, go ahead and register to vote. There may be challenges to the right to vote which will have to be pursued after the election.
If you cannot vote on election day, you can apply for an absentee ballot. Your application must be for one of the four reasons listed below. You are out of town or away from your precinct;
You are ill or disabled and cannot vote on election day;
You are prevented from going to the polling place by a religious holiday or beliefs; or
You have volunteered as an election judge serving in another precinct.
You can get an application form to fill out by contacting your city or county and asking for a form to be sent out. You must fill out and sign this form and return it to the city or county office. Most of the time, it will be better to send the form to the city that handles your elections. However, you will want to check with your county auditor because some counties, such as Anoka, handle elections for all the cities within the county. If you get your application in soon enough, your elections official will send the ballot to you. You can fill it out and return it.
You can also just choose to come to your city or county elections office any time during business hours of the 20 calendar days preceding Election Day, fill out an application, and fill out the absentee ballot right there. Your city and county elections offices will also have hours on the Saturday preceding the primary and general election in which you can come in and fill out an absentee ballot.
County auditors and city election officials also make it a point, within the 20 days preceding Election Day, to go to facilities considered health care facilities, such as group homes, nursing homes and hospitals, to assist people in registering to vote through use of the absentee ballot.
Even if you find on Election Day that something has happened which will make it impossible for you to get to the polling place for one of the reasons listed above, you can still vote. You can call your City Elections officials, ask for their fax number, fax in a form which lists the reason you need an absentee ballot and includes your address, name, and other information generally listed on the form. (Your elections office will be happy to tell you what is needed.) Then you must write a statement that someone else will be your agent, giving their name, address, and probably relationship to you. (Friends and relatives are okay, but your employers or your union leaders are not). Then you can send your agent to the Elections Office with your application and your statement regarding the identity of your agent. The agent can return with a ballot for you to fill out. The agent must get the completed ballot back to the Elections Office by 3:00 p.m. Elections Day.
If you are permanently disabled and feel that you will never be able to go to the polling place, you can ask to be put on a list permanently to be mailed an absentee ballot each year. Few people are really in this category. It is our hope that people with disabilities will go to the polls and vote.
Okay, so you didn’t get registered prior to the election, and you didn’t fill out an absentee ballot. If you have been a Minnesota resident for 20 days, and if you are voting in the precinct where your address is located, you can register to vote on the day itself. When You arrive at the polling place. You will not be included in the roster of names where people have pre-registered to vote. You will need to show evidence that you’ve lived in Minnesota for 20 days, and that your address is a permanent address. If you’ve just moved, and your drivers license or state i.d. doesn’t show your new address, you will need to show a utility bill, dated rent receipt or something that will prove you live at that address. If you are a student newly residing in Minnesota and have been here for 20 days, you can show a letter from Student Services that you are registered, or a rental receipt from your dorm, or something to verify that you live here.
In Minnesota, you have yet another option. You can have a neighbor vouch for you that you live in the precinct. The neighbor doesn’t even have to know you, but he/she has to know that you live in the area, (seeing you leave for work each day, or some other way that the neighbor would know.) Be advised that it would be fraudulent to walk up to a stranger and ask them to say they’re your neighbor and vouch for you if you and that person don’t know each other by sight at least.
Assistance on Election Day to Vote
The Secretary of State’s Office and the Council on Disabilities together developed a survey tool which polling places throughout Minnesota are already supposed to have used to determine whether or not the polling place is accessible. Some polling places, particularly in rural areas where private churches or buildings are used, may not be accessible. The Secretary of State’s Office is planning to work with polling places across the state which need money to make themselves accessible, so in future elections this should even be less of a problem. However, since most polling places are in public buildings, which should already be wheelchair accessible, this shouldn’t be a huge problem in metropolitan areas.
If a person with a mobility impairment comes to the polling place and cannot enter for whatever reason due to inaccessibility of the entrance, he/she can ask that a team of two election judges come out to them and bring a ballot to be filled out in the car. This is called curbside voting.
If you need assistance in reading the ballot and filling it out, that assistance is to be offered to you at the polling place upon request. Usually, two election judges, one from each party, is supposed to be there to help you fill out the ballot and to monitor that it’s done impartially.
If you have any trouble or are not allowed to vote, the first thing you should do is find the Election Judge Chair in your precinct. He/she will be at the polling place. He/she is supposed to try in every way to resolve problems while you are there. If the problem is not resolved at that level, you can call your city’s Elections Office and explain what happened. Most of the cities have people on call to go out to precincts and solve problems which can’t be solved by the election judge chair in the polling place. You could then move on up and call the County Auditor. You could ultimately, if all else failed, file a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office. If you get to the point of filing such a complaint, the issue will probably not be settled that day.
If you have questions about the accessibility of the voting process, feel free to call our office. You can ask for Mai Thor or Kathy Hagen. Our main phone number is (612) 332-1441.
I wish you all the best of luck voting on Election Day. Whatever party you belong to, or whatever view you have on issues presented, it is important, as a person with a disability, to let your voice be heard.