Political News

Q&A: What voters need to know about state election laws

Posted 1:26 a.m. Friday

In the U.S., states have wide discretion when it comes to crafting election laws. The result has been a patchwork of rules that often can be confusing to voters. Questions and answers about various election laws and how they affect voters:

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE TO REGISTER?

Voter registration deadlines vary by state, ranging from 30 days before an election to Election Day. If you live in one of the 12 states that offer same-day voter registration, you can show up on Election Day and register and vote at the same time. In Maryland and North Carolina, same-day registration is allowed only during the early voting period and not on Election Day.

Registration and other voter information for each state can be found here, http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/contact_your_state.aspx

CAN I REGISTER TO VOTE ONLINE?

Yes, if you live in one of the 32 states or the District of Columbia that allow it. In most cases, the information provided in the online form is matched against a state's database of those who have a driver's license or other state-issued identification card.

DO I NEED TO SHOW PHOTO IDENTIFICATION WHEN I VOTE?

Laws that either request or require voters to show some form of identification are in effect in 32 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, half require photo identification, while the other half will accept non-photo identification such as a bank statement or utility bill with a voter's name and address on it.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON'T HAVE A PHOTO ID OR FORGET IT AT HOME ON ELECTION DAY?

This depends largely on where you live. If you live in one of seven states with a "strict" photo ID law, you probably will be directed to fill out a provisional ballot. If you live in one of the nine states with a "non-strict" photo ID, some voters can cast a ballot that will be counted without any additional action needed.

ARE THERE ANY EXCEPTIONS?

Yes, in some states. Eight make allowances for people who have religious objections to being photographed, and two have provisions for the poor.

WHAT IF I HAVE A PROBLEM VOTING ON ELECTION DAY?

If you experience any voting-related problem, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission encourages you to contact your state or local election office for information on how to file a complaint. You also can register a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice at 800-253-3931 or voting.section@usdoj.gov.

Various groups also offer assistance, including the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, which can provide specific information on voting procedures and how to make sure your vote is counted. The group can be reached at 866-OUR-VOTE or online at http://www.866ourvote.org .

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