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What to do if your right to vote is challenged at the polls

If you’re anything like most Americans, at some point between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, you will make your way to a polling place to cast your ballot.  

If there’s a line, you’ll wait. While waiting, you may wonder aloud if online voting will ever be a thing. You may also consider the frenzy of the past 18 months. Just as likely you’ll consider the next 18.  

But what if upon arriving at the check-in-desk, someone walks up behind you to argue that you may not be who you claim to be? What if they claim your vote is fraudulent?  

It happens, and is expected to happen again this year amid mounting calls for more aggressive poll watching and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s stoking of fresh partisan suspicions.

In response, election officials say they’re reviewing and re-issuing guidelines concerning poll watcher conduct, amid growing concerns about “aggressive behavior outside the polls and routine, frivolous or bad faith challenges inside.”

They’re also reminding voters about their rights if their vote is challenged.  

Suzanne Almeida, executive director of the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, said voter qualifications can only be challenged on two grounds: Identity — the voter is not who they claim to be — or residence — the voter does not live in the district where they are attempting to vote.

According to Wanda Murren, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, if a voter’s identity or residence is challenged, an on-site judge of elections will decide whether to accept their vote or not.

“The Judge of Election has the authority to decide whether the voter has adequately demonstrated his or her identity and whether the challenger had a good faith basis to make the challenge,” Murren writes.

If the judge cannot decide on the spot, Murren adds, “the Judge may require a challenged elector to get another qualified elector to sign an affidavit vouching for the challenged elector’s identity or residence.”

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The judge may deem a voter qualified to vouch for another by examining their government issued photo ID, or another form of identification.

“After following these procedures,” Murren says, “the [challenged] voter may vote a regular ballot.”

If the voter is unable or unwilling to find a witness to vouch for him or her, the voter may cast a provisional ballot that will be counted if election officials can later verify the voter’s eligibility. The provisional ballot must be offered if requested.

“Don’t leave the polling place without at the very least voting on a provisional ballot!” Almeida warns.

Meanwhile, Murren said any voter who feels intimidated or harassed at the polls may call the Department of State’s voter hotline at 1-877-868-3772 during polling hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“They also should bring the intimidation or harassment to the attention of the judge of elections at the polling place,” she added. “If the judge of elections fails to act, they should call the county elections office. They may also report it to the county District Attorney’s office or the U.S. Department of Justice by email at voting.section@usdoj.gov or calling toll-free at (800) 253-3931.”

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Almeida also provided the following numbers for Election Protection Hotlines:

• 866-OUR-VOTE provides assistance in English

• 888-VE-Y-VOTA provides bilingual assistance in English and Spanish

• 888-API-VOTE provides assistance in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog 

She added: “The Pennsylvania League of Women Voters is partnering with a number of other organizations and working closely with the Department of State, county commissioners, and local election directors across Pennsylvania to make sure that we can anticipate and address any problems that might arise.” 

Editor’s note: Portions of this article first appeared in an Aug. 23, 2016, PennLive post.

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