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Navigating Election Day: A Little Preparation Can Go a Long Way

New America Media, Commentary, Cecilia Martinez Posted: Oct 30, 2008

Editor's Note: The slogan "Today we march, tomorrow we vote" has led to unprecedented numbers of new voters, many of them naturalized immigrants. It is critical that these first-time voters make sure they go to the polls armed with the right information and know what to do if they run into problems, says Cecilia Martinez, executive director of The Reform Institute, a non-profit public policy organization. IMMIGRATION MATTERS is a regular column from New America Media, featuring the voices of advocacy organizations and non-profits on issues of interest to immigrant communities.

The 2008 presidential election is generating considerable interest and likely record voter turnout, including a substantial number of first-time voters. Many of these first-time voters are naturalized citizens and young people. In order to turn them into lifelong voters, it is vital that the voting process goes smoothly and that their experience is a positive one.

The prospect of the search for the right polling location, long lines at the polls and other problems with voting can be discouraging, especially to new voters. Fortunately, there are resources available to assist and empower voters. The 877-GO-CNN-08 (1-877-462-6608), a toll-free national hotline provided by CNN, will provide voters with critical information and allow them to report problems at the polls. The national hotline has English and Spanish language capabilities, and is now active and will remain so through Nov. 4.

Hotlines in recent elections have revealed that the lack of basic information, particularly poll location or registration status, is the greatest barrier to voter participation.

The hotline will allow voters to ascertain their appropriate voting location as well as connect with their local election offices in order to get information such as voter registration status. Callers will also be able to record messages reporting problems at the polls as they occur, which will assist authorities and observers in determining and locating problem areas.

The Reform Institute has also just released a voter checklist that provides helpful tips for voters, especially those going to the polls for the first time, to facilitate a voting process free of complications. The checklist is available at www.reforminstitute.org. It provides straightforward and valuable advice for voters, including:

Know where your polling place is in advance
Confirm your voter registration before heading to the polls
Know your ballot in advance
Bring identification with you where necessary
Try voting during non-peak hours or consider alternative means of voting
Ask to vote a provisional ballot if you are not allowed to vote a regular ballot
Have the 877-GO-CNN-08 number handy

Getting the proper information before Election Day is beneficial because election authorities will be swamped on Nov. 4. Voters can also obtain information such as polling place location, hours and registration status by visiting the Web site of their state or local elections board.

Having the right information about what will be on the ballot is also critical. Not only will knowing the candidates and any initiatives on the ballot in advance aid in making informed decisions, but it also will speed the voting process. Many local newspapers have a voter guide, and most state or local elections offices provide at least a sample ballot, and sometimes even biographies or statements of candidates and information on ballot initiatives. Check their Web site to see what your local office provides. Many non-profit organizations such as the League of Women Voters also provide non-partisan voter guides.

If you arrive at the polling place where you believe you are registered and your name is not on the voter rolls, you can likely vote a "provisional ballot," which allows you to cast a ballot while you are there, and allows election officials to set it aside to determine after Election Day if it should be counted. The officials should provide you with information on how to determine if your vote is counted.

Having the right information in advance will help make Election Day a success for voters and the country as a whole.

Related Articles:

Voter Education PSA Targets Inconsistent Rules and Regulations

How the GOP Will Suppress Minority Votes on November 4Legally

Beware of Accidental Disenfranchisement

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