As the 2020 election continues, voters are facing several challenges beyond how to safely vote during a pandemic. Election security is a major concern for cybersecurity professionals, and given today’s landscape it is a concern for the average voter as well. Social distancing and good hygiene will help reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 but protecting yourself and your vote goes beyond health concerns.
Rules put in place at polling stations are designed to protect the integrity of the election, and if you are not aware of the regulations you may not be allowed to vote, or your vote could be invalidated. These rules encompass limiting political activities within a certain distance of polling places, restricting apparel that endorses a political candidate, and even banning ballot selfies. Whether or not you are aware of restrictions or rules your polling location has put in place, you may still be subject to the consequences of inadvertent actions.
Stay Safe While You Vote
Every state has restrictions on campaigning at voting locations, which includes direct candidate endorsement activities as well as voter intimidation activities. California, Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont have gone so far as to restrict clothing that endorses a political candidate – this means leave your [Candidate]2020 shirts and hats at home if you plan to vote in person. Other states are a bit more lenient on accessories or outfits with political affiliations but have limits in size (no buttons larger than 3 inches in Maine) or mandate that voters leave the polling place as soon as their ballot is cast (Iowa). Poll workers can ask you to cover up, remove items, or leave altogether. In some states you can also be prosecuted and charged with a misdemeanor.
While social media is a great way to get the word out on voting, what you share regarding your ballot can land you in hot water. Ballot selfies continue to be a popular way to show off civic engagement, but many states have laws prohibiting such photos: https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_selfies. Many polling places will not allow you to use electronic devices while voting, or ban photos within a certain distance of polling location. Write down your ballot choices or print out a sample ballot to err on the side of caution and protect the integrity of your vote.
Federal law protects voters from any attempt to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or interfere with their right to vote. Many states also have laws in place prohibiting voter intimidation. Understanding the difference between poll workers (trained, official election workers who facilitate the voting process) and poll monitors (partisan election observers keeping track of voter turnout). Many states require that poll monitors must be trained and certified by a political party or candidate, and must carry their certification paperwork with them. Some states require poll monitors to be registered voters in the specific county or precinct they are observing rather than just in the state. In some states certified poll monitors may inspect the pollbooks or challenge the qualifications of voters. Unofficial/self-designated election observers are not permitted inside a polling place.
If anyone attempts to coerce or influence your vote, or threatens and intimidates you while trying to vote you can report intimidation to:
The Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español) 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español). 1-888-API-VOTE (Asian multilingual assistance). 1-844-YALLA-US (Arabic)
The U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline: 800-253-3931; TTY line 877-267-8971
Local and state officials, including poll workers; your county clerk, elections commissioner,
Elections supervisor; or your state board of elections
If your qualifications to vote are challenged, most states will let you give a sworn statement that you satisfy the qualifications to vote in the state and then you can proceed to cast a regular ballot. If you are not on the list of registered voters, even if you already checked your registration, you can always ask for a provisional ballot. All voters are entitled to a provisional ballot, and it is the election officials’ responsibility to investigate whether or not you are qualified and registered to vote.
As a rule of thumb, confirm your voter registration several times between now and the election. Save a screenshot of the registration confirmation as proof.
Keep the Election Safe for Others
A volatile election landscape and unprecedented pandemic has enhanced opportunities for the spread of false information about the administration of the 2020 elections. There are different types of false information that voters face: misinformation (false information without ill intent), malinformation (true information, but used out of context to manipulate or mislead), and disinformation (false information deliberately created to harm or manipulate). Misinformation and disinformation disproportionately targets Black voters and communities of color in voter suppression efforts. Voter suppression must be fought in every form, and we must protect everyone's right to vote. This disruption of public trust and proliferation of unsubstantiated rumors is a threat to the election process. Combating disinformation ensures that all of us can exercise our fundamental rights in our democracy. So what can you do?
Share accurate, official, nonpartisan voting resources. Rely on trusted sources for election information and polling place health and safety. Encourage voters to visit local election office websites or contact the offices by phone if they need assistance. You can find contact information for your local election officials here: https://www.usvotefoundation.org/vote/eoddomestic.htm; and official, nonpartisan voting information at www.nass.org/can-I-vote. Voters needing additional assistance or experiencing voting problems can call the national, nonpartisan hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español). 1-888-API-VOTE (Asian multilingual assistance). 1-844-YALLA-US (Arabic)
Learn how to spot and report disinformation. Disinformation about voting often appears as social media posts that make inaccurate claims about how, when, and where to vote. It also includes posts that spread baseless claims about the validity or safety of voting methods or the outcomes of elections. Engaging with posts on social media perpetuating disinformation only draws attention to the falsehoods, avoid it at all costs. Instead, take a screenshot and immediately report it on www.ReportDisInfo.org. Nonpartisan experts will then review its content, report it to tech platforms for removal, and help impacted voters. Here's a great podcast to learn how to spot and deal with misinformation: https://open.spotify.com/episode/76JKwJYKIWsUGXA56W5EKe?si=X7WxWUdLTSyudiC40tzaVQ
Volunteer to fight online disinformation. The best defense against disinformation is being alert to its risks and knowing where to find the real facts. To learn more about how you can fight disinformation in your community, volunteer as a social media monitor. You'll be trained on supporting voters in your community and finding and reporting disinformation online — all from the safety of your own home! To volunteer, sign up with the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition.
Prepare to vote and be PATIENT. Have a well-researched plan for casting your vote, whether in-person early, by mail, or on Election Day. Bring your ID and a completed sample ballot; it will speed up voting no matter what type of in-person voting system you use. Get involved in any way you can and encourage the civic participation of your community to support the democratic process. But understand that this election will be considerably different than elections past and recognize that official results may take longer in some states. Be as vigilant and aware of misinformation after Election Day as you are in the days leading up to it: think before you share or link content on social media, check the sources; be mindful of what you what you are sharing online, check those privacy settings; be wary of manipulative content, take care to avoid sharing or posting emotionally manipulative content online.
Volunteer and Support Safe Civic Participation. It may be too late to sign up to be a poll worker for this election, but there are other ways you can help. Organizations like the Civic Alliance are working to provide PPE to poll workers and keep this year’s election as safe as possible, find out more here: https://www.civicalliance.com/service. Protect Our Votes works to reveal inequities in our elections through the study of election & voting machines, system vulnerabilities, error-rates and human error and examining election result anomalies to protect our votes for the future. Learn more about them here: https://www.protectourvotes.com/
My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. — John Lewis