Voter Self-Protection

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John McCain and his Republican henchmen may be down in the polls, but don't count them out of the election. The Republican Party has been intimidating voters and fostering chaos at the polls for decades, and in the Bush years electoral dirty tricks have become indispensable elements of GOP campaign strategy. So here are the five things every Barack Obama supporter you know ought to do to ensure you're celebrating rather than crying foul on Wednesday morning.


Step No. 1—Know the rules.
The combination of record turnout and electoral shenanigans will make many polling sites crowded, chaotic scenes. So local election officials have been urging voters to help ease the process by voting early. And in many states, it's still not too late to do so—find out if yours is one of them and, if so, go today.

But for those who must vote on Election Day, the most important first step is make sure you know where to vote and what rules you must follow. Republican operatives are exploiting administrative errors to create long lines with "challenges" to individual voters. Don't give them ammunition. Contact your local election officials or look up your state to find polling places and regulations.

One important rule to know is what kind of identification you will need to vote. The rules vary from state to state, so know yours. Another question is whether wearing a candidate's button or T-shirt will violate rules about campaigning inside the poll site. If you're wearing promotional gear, bring a neutral sweater or T-shirt to wear over it. In fact, bring a spare one, too, for neighbors who don't get the message.

Step No. 2—Separate the lies from the truth—then spread the latter.

Don't be scared away by the sorts of lies and empty threats that have been popping up around the country. In Philadelphia, anonymous flyers in black neighborhoods have falsely claimed that voters with unpaid traffic tickets or outstanding warrants will be arrested at the polls. In Virginia, one county's election manager told college students that registering locally, rather than in their parents' home jurisdictions, could jeopardize loans and scholarships. That's all nonsense.

If you hear a scary rumor, it's probably a lie. Call your local election officials to check it out—and make sure your friends and neighbors know the truth. Then contact voting rights watchdogs, such as or 1-866-OUR-VOTE, so they can spread the word, too.

Step No. 3—Actually show up to vote.

Elections have to be close enough to steal, and if the millions of new voters who have joined the political process this year turnout on Election Day, this one won't be.


Republican operatives know this, too. That's why they're working so hard to undermine newly registered voters with bogus claims of "fraud." It's also why Bush's Justice Department has sued at least four states and threatened several more that would not conduct aggressive, questionably legal voter purges. The easiest way to fight back is to vote in massive numbers.

Step No. 4—Don't be shy—ask questions to make sure you understand the ballot.

Voting can be confusing. In some places, for instance, you can cast a party-line vote for all Democrats on the ballot. In others, such as North Carolina, party-line votes won't count toward presidential and vice presidential candidates; you must cast votes specific to those offices. If you're confused about anything, ask a poll worker to explain. That's their job.


Step No. 5—Don't leave until you've voted, period.

If you encounter a long line, chances are it's not an accident. Either local officials haven't provided enough resources or Republican operatives are deliberately slowing the voting process. If you give up, they will have successfully stolen your vote. So be prepared: Bring a friend, a book, some snacks or whatever you need to pass the time. Particularly if you're concerned about standing too long, bring someone who can hold your place while you rest.


And if someone challenges your right to vote, ask for a "provisional ballot." These ballots are set aside until after Election Day, when election officials are able to go back and confirm the voter's eligibility. You'll have to go back and prove you're eligible, and in some states, Republicans and Democrats are fighting about exactly how provisional ballots get counted. But if it's your last resort, be sure to use it.

America will make history tomorrow. We'll either elect the first black president—or John McCain will have stolen the election. It's up to us to decide which version of history gets written.


Kai Wright is a regular contributor to The Root.