Greener Grassroots – Be Ready to Vote on Election Day

Are you ready to go cast your ballot? Many Americans aren’t prepared for election day, and you can help them through voter education.

Facebook is being credited with an uptick in voter registration this year. Using a reminder campaign that greeted users during the last week of September, Facebook nudged more than a few people to register to vote for the November election. Several states are attributing some portion of their increase in voter registration to the Facebook reminder.

You might think that’s a great thing; surely civic participation is something to be encouraged and celebrated, right? It’s the grassiest level of grass roots, isn’t it?

Well, as an election judge, I can tell you what I’m going to be dealing with on election day.

  • Voters who show up to vote at the wrong polling location in the right county
  • Voters who show up to vote from a completely different county
  • Voters who ‘always vote’ in another location and are mad they have to vote in my building
  • Voters who think that they registered, but aren’t sure
  • Voters who have no form of ID that satisfies the Voter ID requirement
  • Voters who don’t know how to work the voting machines
  • Voters who are mad that a politician they like isn’t on their ballot
  • Voters who complain that the line is too slow and they are going to be late, though they had two weeks to vote early
  • Voters wearing candidate shirts inside the polling location in violation of the state code
  • Voters who want to talk political issues and candidates inside the polling location
  • Voters who argue with and yell at me or my clerks for anything that goes awry with their experience

And Facebook just added to the problem.

Every time an election rolls around, there are well-meaning but misguided attempts to rah-rah everyone into voting. And every election, I am confronted with the practical effects of that cheerleading: large numbers of people who can’t seem to find out where and how to vote.

Millions of people vote every year, and manage to find the correct location and bring the appropriate identification. It isn’t that difficult. Every state has a Secretary of State, and every Secretary of State has a website with information about elections hosted there. Every county has an authority responsible for running the elections, and they, too, have websites. Some of them even have a function that lets you search for your exact ballot based on your address. Some have the ability to search for your information to make sure you are registered, and in which precinct. All of these offices have election departments with working phones.

A simple Google search should give a voter plenty of places to look for the information. And yet, taking care of these voters will eat up the majority of my time on November 8th. Each one of these voters will make it take longer for the rest of the people in line who came prepared with just a bare minimum effort.

So here’s what I’m doing, in lieu of asking people whether they are registered to vote. I’m going to ask them if they are READY to vote:

  • Have you checked with your county to make sure you are registered to vote at your current address?
  • Have you checked the polling location where you expect to vote, to see whether it’s the same for this election?
  • Have you looked up your ballot to make sure you know the offices you can vote for?
  • Have you checked the ID requirements to vote in your state?
  • Do you have the proper ID?
  • Have you checked your schedule to make sure you have time to vote without being rushed?
  • Have you made sure you aren’t wearing anything that is not allowed at the polls?
Imagine how much easier the voting experience would be for everyone if we made sure all these people who are newly registered are actually prepared to vote. Instead of just ‘bringing a friend to vote’ as we’ve been told by countless campaigns, we should be helping our friends look up their polling places, look up their ballots, look up their registrations, and teach them how to do it themselves.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a sexy or exciting activity ahead of an election. But in this Greener Grassroots space, I want to encourage you to make it your mission in the next few weeks. This is something we can do that will make an actual difference to actual people.

Bring up the election laws in your area. Talk to people about problems that can happen at the polls. Become a resource for new voters. Find the official state or county sites where election information is posted and share them. Share the relevant voter ID information in your state. If you are part of a community organization or civic group, try to get election information posted there as well.

It takes so little time and effort to be prepared to vote. And it pays much bigger dividends than expanded voter rolls. From all of us who work elections, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.