Next Tuesday, more than 70 million Americans will head to the polls in what many are predicting will be a record turnout. When they do, voters will encounter an election system that has undergone a dizzying number of changes since the debacle of the 2000 presidential election. Some of these changes have themselves raised serious questions that continue to fuel controversy as the election approaches. But the real question now is whether our election infrastructure can handle the deluge of voters when they show up on November 4.
Voting-rights advocates have already sounded an alarm. Last week, the NAACP filed suit against the Commonwealth of Virginia alleging that the state is unprepared to handle the expected turnout. The fear is that election officials will not have enough voting machines, privacy booths, or well-trained poll-workers to handle heavy turnout. This could mean extremely long lines in some precincts, and would-be voters could turn away rather than wait for hours. One recent study predicts lines more than 10 hours long in parts of Virginia.
So what can you do to protect your right to vote in the event of long lines? Here are a few tips:
- Vote early or by absentee ballot. There's still time to do that in many states, and the lines for early voting will often be shorter than voting in person on Election Day.
- Vote at off-peak times. The best times to vote are between 10 a.m. and 12 noon and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
- Be prepared to wait in line. Wear comfortable shoes. Dress in layers and bring rain or snow gear if the weather forecast calls for precipitation. Bring a snack and reading material.
- Be patient, and stay calm. Losing your cool can lead to losing your vote. Also, other voters are less likely to hang around if a line gets unruly.
- Stay in line. You have a right to vote if you're in line when the polls close, but you might lose that right if you get out of line for even a short time.