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4 Nov 2016

Guest Editorial: Know your rights at the polls

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November 4, 2016 Category: Local Posted by:

By Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortés

It is hard to escape the fact that the November 8 general election is quickly approaching.

At the Pennsylvania Department of State, we have a deep commitment to ensuring a fair, secure and smooth electoral process. Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as citizens. As Pennsylvania’s Chief Election Officer, it is my responsibility to see that every eligible citizen in my jurisdiction has a meaningful opportunity to register and vote.

I am happy to report that there are now more than 8.6 million people in Pennsylvania registered to vote. It is certainly an impressive number and accomplishment.  That will not mean much though if the majority of our registrants do not show up at the polls on Election Day.  I encourage all registered voters in Pennsylvania to complete their civic duty and cast a ballot.

As the final countdown begins and you decide which candidates to pick, there are a few other important matters to keep in mind.  I am talking about your rights as a voter.  State and federal laws endow voters with certain protections as they carry out their constitutional right to vote. I encourage you to educate yourself about your rights before going to your polling place.  To confirm your registration or locate your polling place, visit for complete voter information.

Here are some important voter rights:

  Only first-time voters or individuals voting for the first time in a new precinct must show ID. Acceptable forms of identification include both photo and non-photo ID. If you are a registered first-time voter and do not bring your ID to the polls, you can return with identification or vote using a provisional ballot.

  If your name is not in the poll book, poll workers should call the County Board of Elections to see if your name was left out of the poll book inadvertently. If you are a registered voter and find yourself in the wrong precinct polling place, you should go to the correct polling place to vote. If you believe you are registered in the precinct and should be listed in the poll book, you may cast a provisional ballot.

  If you have moved within Pennsylvania but did not update your address in time before the election, you may vote in your previous precinct, if you are able to do so, one time as long as you update your address at the polling place.

  If 50 percent or more of the voting machines at a polling place are not working, you have the right to use an emergency paper ballot. Poll workers should immediately offer the ballots, but if they do not, you can request one instead of leaving without voting.

  If you are challenged on the basis of identity or residency, you may vote normally by signing a challenge affidavit and producing a witness who is also a registered voter in the precinct to vouch for you. If you cannot or do not want to produce a witness, you may cast a provisional ballot.

  You also have the right to assistance at the polling place, including foreign language or literacy assistance. You may select any person to assist as long as the person is not your employer, union representative or the Judge of Elections. You do not need to be designated in the poll book as “assistance permitted” to receive help. If you want assistance, you will be asked to sign an Assistance Declaration at the precinct, unless the poll book already indicates “assistance permitted.” You also have the right to refuse assistance.

  Finally, you have the right to vote without being subjected to intimidation, harassment or discriminatory conduct. If you experience intimidation, please report it immediately to the County Board of Elections and the District Attorney’s office. Or call the Department of State at 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3662) or the US Department of Justice’s Voting Section at 1-800-253-3931.

The Department of State prides itself on providing all eligible voters with voter education resources.  One of our great election-related resources is The site offers voter rights information in two easily downloadable brochures. The brochures are: “Everyone VotesPA 2016 Voter Guide” and “Top 5 Things Every Pennsylvania Voter Should Know for the 2016 Election.”

You can easily download and print copies of the brochures to take to your polling place. We want every voter to know what to expect and who to contact if an issue arises.

Thank you to the 8.6 million Pennsylvanians who are now registered to vote. Also, I want to congratulate Pennsylvania for embracing our online voter registration (OVR) application. By the close of registration on October 11, nearly 900,000 people had used OVR since it launched in August 2015.

Registering to vote was just the first step.  The final step is to let your voice, your vote, count.  Please encourage every registered voter you know to go to the polls.  Voting is the best way for us to have a say in our economy, justice system, schools, and workforce.  It is the best way to bring about the future you envision for your family, your community and your nation. See you at the polls!

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