With all of the voter ID laws being passed, appealed, and postponed lately, it is easy to get confused over what our rights are as we prepare to cast our ballots in November.
In the past two weeks alone, South Carolina’s and Pennsylvania’s voter ID laws, which require voters to present photo ID, have either been blocked (as was the case with Pennsylvania) or postponed (as is the case in South Carolina) until after the elections.
The operative word being after.
And what if you are a felon? What are your rights in this instance? Then there is the “voter suppression” issue we’ve all heard about. What if someone challenges your right to vote? What do you do?
Some advocacy groups fear that many citizens will go to their local voting precincts unprepared to vote because they will not know what documents they need to bring, whether a neighboring state’s voter ID laws apply to theirs, or how to challenge an official who says that they are not eligible to vote.
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But NewsOne has interviewed several legal and voter rights experts from various organizations to help arm readers with the knowledge needed to ensure their voices will be heard next month.
Below are three common questions people have about their voting rights:
1. How Do New Voter ID Laws Affect You?
It depends on where you live. Most states do not have voter ID laws.
If you live in South Carolina or Pennsylvania, you do not need a photo ID to vote this November. Federal judges in both states blocked legislation that requires citizens to show a photo ID during the November elections.
“They can ask you for ID, but they can’t prevent you from voting,” says Corinne A. Carey assistant legislative director at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Another concern Carey says the Civil Liberties Union has is that voters in New York, for example, may believe voter ID legislation in Pennsylvania applies to their state. This is simply not true, she says. New York state does not have an ID requirement for voters.
The best thing any voter can do to help avoid any confusion is to know the laws and document requirements of his or her state before Nov. 6.
You can call your local Board of Elections and someone should be able to help you understand what ID, if any, you will need to bring with you on Election Day.
For a breakdown of states and their individual voter ID guidelines, click here.
2. If I Have Been To Jail, Can I Vote?
It depends on where you live, what crime you have been convicted of, and your criminal record because each state has its own laws in regards to voting rights for citizens with criminal records. And those guidelines can be very confusing, especially for those with felony convictions.
“There are a lot of people who believe, incorrectly, that if you ever get a felony conviction, you never vote again,” says Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project. “Unfortunately, that is the case in a handful of states. But in most states, after some period of time or after you complete your sentence, you are eligible to vote again.”
Citizens with other kinds of criminal convictions have more flexibility depending on the state. If you are on parole in some states, you are eligible to vote after your parole period ends. Some states allow parolees to vote. In some cases, you may have to request that your rights are restored.
So if you have been locked up for any reason, it is good to double-check on how your criminal record affects your voting status. Generally speaking, citizens serving prison time cannot vote.
The Sentencing Project estimates that nearly 6-million people are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, but don’t let this statistic stop you from checking the status of your voting rights. You just might have the right to vote, despite your criminal past.
Call your state’s Board of Elections to check your status. You can also call the Sentencing Project at 202.628.0871 for more information.
3. Who Can I Call If I Feel My Rights Have Been Violated?
There are several organizations you can call if you have been denied the right to vote. Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a national organization based in Washington, D.C., is one of them. The group has hundreds of lawyers staffed across the United States who are a phone call away if you need their assistance.
“The most important thing is that voters need to know what kind of ID they need to bring with them on election day,” Eric Marshall, manager of Legal Mobilization at LCCRUL. “They can look it up well before election day.”
But if you happen to find yourself at a polling station and a polling official says you cannot vote, please call the LCCRUL toll free at 888-299-5227. Program the number in your cell phone today, so you will have it ready if needed.
Election Protection, a non-partisan coalition based in Washington D.C., can be called at 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report any problems or concerns you have about voting.
You can also call your local NAACP. There are a countless resources at your disposal to help ensure you have a right to vote. Moreover, additional information is just a Google search away. If you know friends or family who may potentially be confused about their rights, please tell them what you know. Each one, teach one is the adage by which our community should abide by as Election Day approaches.
The stakes are simply too high for us not to.