During the presidential debate on Tuesday night, September 29, President Donald Trump alarmed millions of his critics by expressing his solidarity with the Proud Boys — a racist far-right group with a history of violence — and urged his supporters to act as poll watchers on Election Day. Trump's comments made it painfully clear that Republicans will do everything they can to discourage Democrats and supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden from voting. Certainly, voter intimidation and voter suppression are legitimate concerns in 2020, and CNN has published an informative guide for coping with those problems.
In an article published by CNN on October 1, journalists A.J. Willingham and Zachary B. Wolf warn, "Here's a scary idea: even if you have the legal right to vote and have done everything to prepare yourself for casting a ballot this year, you could still be intimidated at the polls. But here's the key thing to know: under federal law, you should always be able to cast what's known as a provisional ballot, even if your registration status is not clear."
Willingham and Wolf go on to explain that Trump "has encouraged his supporters to monitor polling places on his behalf as he spreads unfounded conspiracy theories about voter fraud, amplifying concerns that legitimate voters will be challenged on their way into polling places — even though most states have strict rules about who can serve as a poll watcher and how many there can be."
In some parts of the U.S., the CNN reporters add, voting has become more difficult because "many U.S. states have implemented laws that impose new restrictions on voting, which critics say disproportionately affect minority voters" and because, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court "struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the approval of the Justice Department before states made any changes to their voting laws."
But Willingham and Wolf emphasize that "no matter what unexpected issues you encounter at your polling place, there are ways to make sure your vote gets in safely." And they offer a range of tips, which include "know your state's registration deadline" and "update your information" as well as "check to see if you need an ID, and what kind" and "remember that, most likely, you are legally allowed to cast a ballot."
"What if you are told your registration didn't go through, or you don't have the required documents?," Willingham and Wolf write. "Even if your registration is pending or your voter application has been wrongly purged, you are still allowed to vote. According to the ACLU, if your qualifications are challenged, some states will have you sign a sworn statement that you satisfy your state's requirements and allow you to cast a regular ballot."
A provisional ballot is a type of paper ballot that is used in certain circumstances. For example, if someone requested an absentee ballot but never received it and wants to vote in person on Election Day, that person might — depending on the state's election laws — be asked to use a provisional ballot. Willingham and Wolf conclude their article by urging voters to be as proactive as possible if a provisional ballot is needed.
"These ballots are typically kept separately from all other ballots," Willingham and Wolf note. "So, make sure to follow up with your local elected officials to confirm they have looked into your qualifications and have counted the vote. Often, you might have to prove your identity in the days following Election Day to have that provisional ballot counted."