Everything you ever wanted to know about voting in this election but were too afraid to ask.
I know you! You’re too scared to ask any of your frothing-at-the-mouth civic-duty-fascist friends the following questions about voting. Just asking the question invites public shaming, and you want to avoid that, and maybe the easiest way to avoid that is to not ask and consequently not vote. I appreciate your perspective. It was like in middle school, when the teacher would say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” And then, inevitably, someone asks a question and everyone laughs, sometimes including the teacher. I have a memory of someone once in middle school asking a question, and the teacher responding sarcastically, “what kind of a question is that?!” and the student actually, bravely, calling out the teacher on her reaction. Teacher was appropriately chastened and this was the one time that we fellow students, though inwardly laughing at the stupid question, sided with the stupid-question-asking student because we felt we had won in some way, proved some point, made a difference.
There’s also the standard teacher cliché of “If you have a question, there’s a very, very good chance someone else in the class also has that same question but is too scared to ask.” I believe this, having not, in my recollection, asked more than 4 questions total during my 17 years of public education, more often exhaling with relief when someone else would step up for me. Little known fact: people who are seen as smart do not want to ask questions, for fear their asking will expose them as not knowing everything. So truly, I understand you.
And I think voting is unnecessarily complicated. The rules/places/times are different for early voting than for Election Day. Early voting hours are different for different locations. Different states do it differently – some judges are elected and others are appointed. When in school do you learn any of this? You never do. You’re expected to navigate it on your own, and if you don’t have easy access to the internet, finding out even a number to call to ask somebody can be daunting. You have to want badly to find it out. So if you’re just a bit laissez-faire about the process, you might not spend the time to find it out and you might not vote. OR, you just need a know-it-all like me to tell you everything, so here goes! (Note that since it’s past the early voting period, these questions and answers are only for what you do now that Election Day is your only option. They are also specific to North Carolina, the Old North State, my home, land of the long leaf pine.)
I’m not registered to vote? Can I vote?
Not anymore! Early voting ended November 3. During early voting, you can register to vote and vote on the same day. You can really, really procrastinate with registration and still get to vote up until the Saturday before a Tuesday election, because North Carolina, for all her backwards miseries, is very forward-thinking in this one regard. So, you procrastinated a bit too long and you are SOL. Why don’t you take this time to just fill out a voter registration thingy so this doesn’t happen next time: http://www.ncsbe.gov/content.aspx?id=1&s=1 ?
Where is my polling place?
This is trickier than it looks because early voting sites are not always the same as your election day polling place. But you’re reading this on the internet, so you have access to the internet, and you can find your polling place here: http://www.ncsbe.gov/PrecinctFinder.aspx. This is the NC Board of Elections website, so it’s non-partisan and won’t send you to some whack-ass non-existent voting site full of menacing orangutans wearing spiked helmets who have been drinking all day, in a county in which you do not reside. And I mean, real, live orangutans! You just punch in your address into that website and it spits out your polling place!
When are the polls open?
This one is easy because it’s the same for all NC polling places on Election Day: 6:30am-7:30pm. If you’re in line by 7:30pm, you will get to vote.
Who’s on the ballot? And who do I vote for? (or, if, like me, grammar is part of your livelihood: for whom do I vote?)
This great website, the NC Voter Guide (another non-partisan endeavor, this time a service of UNC-TV) http://www.ncvoterguide.org/ should be your first stop. The best part of the website is that the candidates gave little blurbs on themselves, and you can view them side-by-side. You can also go directly to the candidates’ websites from that site (new windows are opened up), and determine easily which candidates demand America be turned into a theocracy. It’s hard to muddle through the media portrayal of candidates, so what can you believe? Fudge, man, just go to their websites! If it’s on their website, you know they put it there and mean it. Tim D’Annunzio’s website has “Christian Nation” as an entire page (from left to right, the linked pages read “Home”; “Christian Nation”; “About Tim”; “Issues”; etc.) Click through, and you can tell exactly where Tim D. stands and that there’s no way I’d vote for him. Thanks for being clear in your message, Tim! The NC Voter Guide website allows you to generate your own personalized voting guide tailored to the candidates on your particular ballot, and there are even places for you to jot down your own notes. Then you can print out the guide you personally generated, and take it with you to the polls. Oh marvelous technology!
Do I need ID to vote?
God, why is this so confusing? It’s different everywhere, but in NC, mercifully, it’s the same in every county. For most people, you don’t need ID. This is because when you registered to vote, you gave your driver’s license and SS# and both were validated. So you might need to provide those, but not ID. You also don’t need to show your voter card, so if you’re not the filing cabinet type, and it’s in a big pile of papers under an owl knickknack, mixed in with those phone bills you never paid, do not despair. However, it’s trickier if you’re a first-time voter and there was some snafu with your credentials. In this case, you’ll need ID (valid photo and something that shows you live where you do). My best advice, honestly, is when you go to vote on Tuesday, just bring this stuff with you anyway. Just do it! How hard is it – if you have it, just take it with you in case you get hassled.
What if I get hassled at the polls? What if something goes wrong when I vote on Tuesday?
This one I am happy to plug, because the good folks at the UNC School of Law, where I used to work, are again manning the election protection hotline for the entire state. On Election Day, if shiznit seems weird when you vote, try to remember every detail of the shiznit in question and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. You’ll get someone on the line, a real person, who will take it all down and investigate. I volunteered for the hotline in 2008, and it was an eye-opener and awesome. It’s there all day on Election Day, so if trouble finds you, call it! That number again is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
Can’t I just vote straight ticket?
Sure, but remember that you have to 1) fill in the president separately – if you vote straight ticket, it will not fill in the presidential race automatically. Don’t ask me why. It’s the same for judges, which are supposed to be non-partisan races, and also for the county referenda. For Orange County, par example, there’s a box for a tax to raise $ for transit, which is not taken care of by straight-party voting. Like a fine cocktail, straight ticket voting will solve many of your problems and may make things easier on you, but it won’t magically solve all your problems, so don’t get caught with your pants down having accidentally not voted for the president, or for judges, or for light rail.
My NC county is conservative. I’m a Democrat, so I might as well not vote for President because it won’t matter. Right?
Wrong! This one I had to look up, though, which is the moment I admit I don’t know everything. I too, must learn. For NC (and all but two states), the Electoral College is winner-take-all by state. It’s a popular vote in NC: the total number of votes for one presidential candidate means all electoral college votes for that state go to the winner. So a Democrat in someplace like Stokes county can help the entire state go for Obama, even if everyone at his Stokes county church votes Romney. Likewise, if you are in Carrboro and are voting Romney and probably not telling a single person you are doing so for fear they will put a hippie hex of some sort on you, fear not – your vote for Romney will go in the big pile with all your cohorts in Stokes county.
If you have other questions, let me know and I’ll make another update tomorrow!