Get ready to vote: Answers to 9 practical Election Day questions

While the 2016 presidential election was one of the most divisive races in American history, the 2017 elections will have far-reaching effects on the local level.

Now is not the time to make easy but costly mistakes.

To help make Election Day as seamless as possible for you, we’ve rounded up some of the most frequently asked questions concerning the more practical side of voting in this election.


How do I find my polling place?

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Voters wait in line at a polling station in Greenville, South Carolina.
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REUTERS/Rainier Ehrhardt

To figure out where you vote, start by Googling it!

You can look up your polling place on your state’s board of elections page, or via the portal on the website for the National Association of Secretaries of State.


How do I know who will be on my ballot?

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These names won’t be on there this year.
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Thomson Reuters

Rock the Vote has a comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide you can customize.

Put in your information, and the site spits out what choices you have to make.

For the congressional races, the site provides short bios of the candidates and gives you links to their campaign pages and social media accounts. If you create a profile, you can even save which candidates you want to vote for and send them to yourself so you have a reference for Election Day.


Do I need ID to vote?

This Election Day, 34 states will have ID laws in effect, and seven have strict photo IDs requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To look up requirements specific to you, select your state on Rock the Vote’s website. It’ll tell you if you need ID and, if so, what kind.

Proponents of voter ID laws say they aim to prevent voter fraud, although research has concluded it is incredibly rare. But critics say the laws disenfranchise low-income and minority voters who may have trouble getting ID.

If you have any more questions about what kind of ID you may need or how you can get one, call the hotline from VoteRiders, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping eligible citizens vote, at 1-844-338-8743.


Can I use my phone at the polling place?

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Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

Many states prohibit taking pictures inside the polling place, especially of your ballot. (It can even be a felony offense.)

If you want to use your phone as a resource to remember whom you want to vote for, it’s probably best to ask an election official before taking it out.

Many states have rules against any phone use, too. You might want to write down your choices on paper beforehand just to be safe.


What happens if I’m in line when the polls close?

Many (if not all – I couldn’t find any that didn’t follow this rule) states have laws on the books requiring that every person in line when the polls close must be able to vote.

“It’s one of the most basic principles of electoral democracy,” Ned Foley, director of Ohio State University’s Election Law @ Moritz, wrote for Medium before the 2016 election.

“If you go to the polls when they are open, and you are a registered and qualified voter, then as long as you wait in line, you are entitled to cast your ballot even if the line is so long that you must wait until after the scheduled time for the polls to close.”

If this happens to you, stay in line and call the nonpartisan voter-protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for more information.


What do I do if I have any problems trying to vote?

If you encounter any problems trying to vote, contact the Justice Department’s civil rights division by phone (1-800-253-3931) or email (voting.section@usdoj.gov), or submit a complaint on its website.

You can also call the nonpartisan voter-protection hotline – from groups including the ACLU and Rock the Vote – at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) if you believe your rights were violated or you saw someone else’s were.


Is Election Day a national holiday?

Election Day isn’t a national holiday in the US, but some people think it should be.

Of the nonvoters surveyed by the Census Bureau about the 2008 presidential election, the 2012 presidential election, and numerous other elections, the most commonly cited reason for not voting was being too busy or having conflicting work schedules.

According to Pew Research data, voter turnout in the US trails most developed countries. While countries such as Belgium, Sweden, and Turkey saw more than 80% of their estimated voting-age populations cast votes in their recent elections, only 53.6% of the estimated voting-age population in the US voted in the 2012 presidential election.

To ensure “that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to designate “Democracy Day” a national election holiday. The bill sits before a Senate committee.

Others, including former President Barack Obama, businesses, and advocacy groups have voiced their approval of celebrating Election Day as a national holiday.

However, only Congress could make Election Day a national holiday, and so far no bills proposing such action have passed.


Can I get time off work to vote?

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A woman takes a selfie with an “I Voted” sign in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

If you’re wondering whether you can come in late or leave work early to cast your vote in this year’s presidential election, the short answer is quite possibly – it depends where you work.

The majority of states have time-off-to-vote laws, also referred to as voter-leave laws, and have different requirements and exceptions for employers and employees.

While some states guarantee paid time off, for example, others do not. And the time guaranteed for employees to vote varies state-by-state.

Of course, your employer may offer leave to vote even if your state does not.

But since not everyone’s employer is so generous, you’d be well advised to learn about the specific voter-leave provisions in your state.

Check out this comprehensive list to see your state’s leave law »


Can I get in trouble for sharing who I voted for at work?

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Clinton or Trump?
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Jim Young/Reuters

As an employee expressing yourself at work, you have fewer protections than you’d think – and if your boss doesn’t like what they hear, you could get fired for it.

Your company may have rules prohibiting political paraphernalia or using social media to express your political affiliations, so it’s always a good idea to get acquainted with your employee handbook.

And unless you signed some sort of contract that says otherwise, it’s likely you’re an at-will employee. This means that your boss can fire you whenever they want without having to establish just cause.

Of course, labor laws exist in this country to protect people against adverse employment actions due to discrimination. So if your boss fires you, for example, simply because you’re a woman, that’s wrongful termination, and you could sue them for that.

But very few laws exist that truly protect private-sector employees against getting fired for expressing their political affiliation. A handful of states, such as New York and California, have laws that offer protections for political affiliation, but even some of those are fairly limited.

What’s more, talking heatedly about politics at work could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, and people could file a harassment complaint against you for that.

At the end of the day, if all your politics talk could be construed as interfering with your productivity, that could be just cause for termination.