We’re less than a week away from what just about everyone in the country is referring to as the most important election of our lifetime.
No matter which side you’re rooting for, both sides agree that voter turnout will be the key to victory. In particular, the number of first-time voters who cast their ballot is most likely to determine the next president of the United States.
With so much at stake, take whatever steps you can to make sure your vote counts.
1. Check your registration and your polling place NOW.
If you aren’t registered, you can’t vote. And even if you are registered, you can only vote in one location on Nov. 4. Verify both online at http://imaps.indygov.org/PollingLocator.
You’ll be prompted for your birthdate and address and, if you are registered, you’ll get a message saying your registration is confirmed, as well as the name, address and usually a photo of your polling place. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to print this page out and take it with you when you go to vote.
2. Even if you have voted before, check your polling place.
On Dec. 28, 2007, new precinct boundaries were adopted by the city of Indianapolis, reducing the number of precincts in Marion County from 914 voting precincts to 590. Make sure you know where you are going; and don’t wait until Election Day to go to the Web site — odds are it’ll be slow, if not crashed, due to heavy traffic. If you aren’t familiar with the voting place, scout it out before Election Day. You don’t want to get lost or drive around for half the day looking for where you’re supposed to be.
3. You don’t have to wait until Nov. 4 to vote.
If you know you can’t get to the polls on Election Day, you can still cast your ballot by voting early.
To vote early in person, you can go to the Clerk’s Office, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The Clerk’s Office will be open the weekend before the election from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Nov. 1-2. The deadline to vote in person at the Clerk’s Office is Monday, Nov. 3 at noon. The office is in the City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St., Suite W-122.
You may also vote early at one of two satellite locations: J. Everett Light Career Center, 1901 E. 86th St., on the campus of North Central High School , or Southport Community Center located at 6901 Derbyshire Road. Both sites are open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The last day to vote early at either of these satellite locations is Sunday, Nov. 2.
At any of these sites, you will fill out an application in person and must present a valid, government-issued photo ID before you are permitted to vote.
4. You must have a government-issued photo ID.
Public Law 109-2005 requires Indiana residents to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot at the polls on Election Day. This will be strictly enforced at every voting location.
Acceptable forms of ID are: a current Indiana driver’s license, Indiana photo ID card, military ID or U.S. passport. A current student ID from an Indiana state school (IU, IUPUI, Purdue, Ball State, Ivy Tech) may only be used if it meets all of the four criteria specified below. A student ID from a private institution (Butler, Marian, UIndy) may not be used for voting purposes.
Your photo ID must meet all of the following criteria to be acceptable for voting purposes:
• Your ID must display your photo
• Your ID must display your name, and the name must conform to your voter registration record. (Conform does not mean identical, but it can’t be a nickname that isn’t traditionally associated with your legal name. Examples of names that would conform to “Robert John Crew” would be Robert John Crew, Robert J. Crew, Robert Crew, R. John Crew, R.J. Crew, Bob John Crew, Bob J. Crew, Bob Crew, John Crew, J. Crew).
• Your ID must display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last general election (Nov. 7, 2006). This includes military IDs with expiration dates of “INDEF.”
• Your ID must be issued by the state of Indiana or the U.S. government.
5. Additional ID may be required.
If you are a first-time voter, and you registered to vote by mail, in addition to your ID as described above, bring some type of “official” document that shows your address and matches the address on your voter registration. This can be a pay stub, bank statement, utility bill, lease agreement or something similar. If you are a student, it can be a report card from your school — as long as it has your name and address that matches your voter registration.
6. What NOT to wear.
Indiana law prohibits campaigning, including campaign materials, inside of the polling place. This means you too: Do not wear any buttons or T-shirts that refer to any candidate or political party or even the outgoing president when you go to vote. Don’t even wear something that might possibly be construed as political. It is against the law and you will be told to leave without casting your vote.
7. What to expect once inside.
Don’t be nervous. Even though it might seem a bit overwhelming, it’s not that hard. Here’s what you can expect:
Once inside, you’ll be greeted by a clerk, judge or inspector. They will ask for your name and look it up in the poll book, a list of all registered voters in the precinct. Be patient. In Marion County, this is likely to be someone over the age of 65 with a passion for civic duty and a penchant for slowness.
As they look for your name, the judge or inspector will ask to see a government-issued ID. If you’re ID meets all four requirements, you’ll be asked to sign the poll book acknowledging your participation in the election. Then you will be handed a ballot and directed to a voting booth. You can find a sample ballot at www.vote-in.org. You’ll need to submit your address for the ballot, but note that this is just a sample and not an exact replica of what you’ll see on Election Day.
8. Don’t do something stupid.
READ THE INSTRUCTIONS AT THE TOP OF THE BALLOT. This is the most important piece of paper you will ever have in your hand. Take a moment to read the instructions so you do it right and your vote counts. (Odds are, all you have to do is color in some ovals. But you need to follow instructions and do it right or the machine will not count your ballot.) Once you’re done, turn around, look for the voting machine and then slip your ballot in to it. You’re done.
9. Do not take no for an answer.
If you’ve checked your registration, and you know that it’s valid, and you have an ID, and you know that it’s valid, and there is still some reason that you are told you cannot vote, demand to cast a provisional ballot. Don’t get into an argument with the poll worker. There is no point and you will not win. Calmly ask to cast a provisional ballot.
There will be a flurry of activity and a good amount of grumbling, but you will be given a form to fill out as well as a ballot. Then your ballot will be put into a special envelope that will not be put into the voting machine. Rather, it will go to the Clerk’s Office in the City-County Building.
If you cast a provisional ballot, you have until noon 10 days after the election to follow up and go to the Clerk’s Office with all your ID and documentation and prove that you are a registered voter and your ballot is valid.
10. Reread this list again.
Seriously. And then give it to a friend. The laws governing elections are strict. You have to abide by all of the rules in order to vote. Be prepared. Check your registration and make sure it’s valid; locate your polling place ahead of time; make sure you have valid ID with you; don’t wear a Bush Sucks, GoBama or My Man Mitch T-shirt; and make sure you read the directions before you color in those circles.
Most of this information, except for the sarcastic parts, is taken directly from the Web sites of the Indiana secretary of state (www.in.gov/sos/elections) and the Marion County Election Board (www.indygov.org/eGov/County/Voter/home.htm) and the Marion County Clerk’s Office (www.indygov.org/eGov/County/Clerk/home.htm).