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Voting 101: Confronting Problems at The Polls

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African-Americans have often faced challenges when trying to cast their ballots, from poll taxes to mob violence. Disenfranchisement and suppression, however, are far from being issues of the past. Here are three potential voting threats to watch for on November 4 and ways to address them.

Mistakes on Voter Databases

Every state has a computerized database of registered voters that you must be on in order to vote. But in some states, citizens won't be added to the list unless the information on their registration can be matched to other government records. Under this law, people with unique ethnic names or creatively spelled English names are especially at risk of being turned away on Election Day. Make sure your name is on the list now by calling your local election office. (Find yours at Vote-smart.org.)

Criminal Background Purges

Several states keep their voter rolls up to date by ousting people with felony convictions, who in many states are prohibited from voting. Sometimes states don't check for voters who are pardoned and have had their voting rights restored. On other occasions, people with misdemeanors are erroneously purged from poll lists. Call your local elections office in advance to be sure you're on the rolls.

Unfair Voter ID Requirements

Some states require that voters present state or federal photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport, at the polls. But many voters cannot afford government ID, which can cost as much as $65. If you don't have ID, it may help to bring a current utility bill or paycheck that shows your name and street address. Otherwise ask for a provisional ballot, which will be examined later.

What to Do If Problems Arise

It can be frustrating to have a poll worker turn you away on Election Day, but it's important not to give up. Remember, voting is a right, not a privilege. Safeguard that right by doing the following:

Don't Leave

Understand that if your registration is current, you will get to vote. If your name is not on the rolls, ask for a provisional ballot.

Call Voter Hot Lines

Dial 866-OUR-VOTE to connect with lawyers and trained volunteers, or leave a message for local election officials at 866-MYVOTE1.

PHONE the Local Campaign Office of the candidate you support, or check your candidate's Web site for information, Barackobama.com or Johnmccain.com.

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