Vote Counts
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14 Tricky Tactics That Could Cost You Your Vote

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Vote Counts
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No Vote

Voting has never been more important, but for a country that prides itself on its democracy and elections, the United States has a long way to go to ensure that all eligible Americans get to contribute. Voter suppression is a widespread and "recurring problem in the United States," a report from the Center for American Progress says, with millions of eligible Americans prevented from casting a ballot each election cycle. That can be scary when limiting participation of even a few thousand votes can affect the outcome in competitive races. Here are some of the ways we've seen the un-American practice of voter suppression.

Related: What Other Countries Are Doing to Make Voting Accurate and Accessible

A man holds a sign for voter registration at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders
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Registration Confusion

About 1 in 7 citizens of voting age admitted in 2016 that they were not registered to vote. While some states have tried to make it easier, such as by making registration automatic or allowing it on Election Day, the process can still be a substantial barrier. Hurdles include figuring out where to register and assembling all of the materials required, such as proof of residency.

Related: Don't Miss These Voting Deadlines in Your State

Passport
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'Exact Match' Policies

In some states, bureaucracy can affect voter registration applications. In Georgia, in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, some 53,000 registrations were placed on "pending" status by the secretary of state because of an "exact match" policy that flags even a minor misspelling or missing hyphen (but didn't warn voters there was a problem). Just four days before the election, a federal judge intervened to stop it — but applicants in pending status were still required to prove eligibility, including U.S. citizenship. While establishing eligibility may seem minor, it can be a problem if you can't get to your birth certificate or passport on short notice.

Voter Purges
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Voter Purges

Some 16 million voters were purged by states across the country between 2014 and 2016, The Brennan Center for Justice says, and the purges haven't stopped. During the 2018 midterms, one state conducting purges was Ohio, which targeted voters who hadn't been active in the two previous elections and failed to return a mailer; but it followed a 2015 purge of hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters who had not cast a ballot since 2008, the Center for American Progress says. If you haven't voted recently, you may want to make sure you are still eligible.

Strict ID Requirements
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Strict ID Requirements

Ten states have strict laws that require government-issued ID to be presented before someone can vote, according to the center. But 11% of Americans lack the government-issued identification needed, many of them low-income Americans and students. As a result, an election may lose another 2% to 3% of its voters, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

An election official wears a mask and sits behind a plastic barrier as he waits to check in voters at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School during primary election day on June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC.
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Lack of a Street Address

A North Dakota law requiring voters to have ID with a current street address was upheld in 2018 by the U.S. Supreme Court — which may seem like a minor detail but prevents tens of thousands of people from voting, from people who are moving to the homeless. It also includes about 5,000 Native Americans who live on reservations and don't have residential street addresses because they rely largely on P.O. boxes. "Under this new law, even tribal ID cards are inadequate if they do not list a street address," the report says.

A voting sign sits outside the Union Station polling center on June 30, 2020 in Denver, Colorado
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Misinformation

Voter confusion is an issue every election cycle, but purposeful misinformation makes it worse. "Even well-intentioned groups have inadvertently misinformed people, while others have intentionally sought to confuse voters and prevent them from voting," the TCAP says. It takes many forms. On voting day in 2018, during the midterms, "voters in several states — including Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and New York — received text messages from various groups and organizations that included incorrect information about designated polling locations, which resulted in people going to the wrong polling places to vote, only to be turned away." Double and triple check polling location addresses to make sure they are correct.

Related: The Most Ridiculous Campaign Merch Available for 2020

A voter submits their ballot at a polling place in the Pearl Park Recreation Center on August 11, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Fake Ballots, Bad Advice

Confusion isn't spread just by text message. In Kansas, the wrong ballot was being handed out for a while at a polling place in 2018. In Montana, the Republican National Committee sent an October mailer to registered voters saying "they could submit absentee ballots postmarked the day before the election so long as they were received by election officials within 10 days after Election Day" — totally untrue: All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Election Day, regardless of when they're postmarked.

Related: 18 Things You Didn't Know About the U.S. Postal Service

Irrational Fears
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Spoofed Campaign Calls

It's an old trick: Send out an offensive mailer or make a call claiming to be from the campaign you hope will look bad, even if it's more a subtle form of intimidation than about misleading a voter. In Florida in 2018, residents got a robocall claiming to be from Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum that was actually from an Idaho white supremacist group. It also released a robocall in Georgia when Oprah Winfrey turned out to support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, filled with racism and anti-Semitism.

Related: Notice a Drop in Spam Calls? It Wasn't Just Due to the Coronavirus

"I Voted" stickers are made available at a polling place in the Pearl Park Recreation Center on August 11, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Voter Harassment

While protecting voting rights is a bipartisan issue, President Donald Trump's administration has drawn criticism for doing the opposite, appearing to intimidate and discourage some voters — such as by having the U.S. Department of Justice issue a subpoena for some 20 million voter records in 44 North Carolina counties. The 2018 request was withdrawn after the state's board of election rejected the move unanimously, though the DOJ still asked that the records be turned over by January 2019, the center says.

Related: Best and Worst Impacts of Trump's First Term on Seniors

A voter takes in the view outside a polling place after casting her ballot in California's 25th Congressional district on November 6, 2018 in Agua Dulce, California
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Closing Polling Places …

It is, of course, harder to vote when there's nowhere to do it — or at least nowhere close. "Last year, Texas led the U.S. South in an unenviable statistic: closing down the most polling stations, making it more difficult for people to vote," The Guardian reported in March. About 750 polls have been closed statewide since 2012, which could exacerbate already low voter turnout rates. But Texas is merely one example of this issue. Arizona has undertaken the nation's most significant reduction of polling places in recent years, closing some 321 locations, according to a 2019 report from The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Afternoon sunlight illuminates the door to a polling location on November 6, 2018 in Modesto, California
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… and Disorienting Voters

In 2018, Kansas officials moved Dodge City's last polling place to outside the city limits, "far away from public transportation," then sent mailers to new voters wrongly telling them they were allowed to vote in the old location, TCAP says. In Florida, meanwhile, officials mystifyingly moved a polling place from Deerfield Beach to a private, gated community. "Voters who were assigned to vote at the polling place but resided outside of the gated area complained that they were unable to access the polling place because the community's private security guard stopped them for failing to present ID." Make sure you know where your voting place is well in advance (and that you can get to it).

Voters wait in line to enter a polling place at Halls Ferry Elementary on August 4, 2020 in Florissant, Missouri
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Long Lines

When hundreds of polling places close, it can result in incredibly long lines at the polling locations that remain. "In 2016, roughly 3% of people standing in line at voting locations left before they could vote as a result of long lines," TCAP says. Georgia, another state with lots of poll closings, has made headlines for long lines during primary voting: In Atlanta, voters waited more than three hours in some locations, worsened by social distancing measures resulting from COVID-19 that decreased the number of voting machines and voters allowed in a polling place at any one time.

Related: 15 Ways the Coronavirus Has Changed Americans' Daily Lives

An election worker feeds ballots into a high speed counting machine to count cast ballots at the Utah County election office on June 30, 2020 in Provo, Utah
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Malfunctioning Voting Equipment

Properly functioning equipment is vital, but there are challenges here too. Texas' 2018 midterms were an example. "Voting machines in several Texas counties experienced vote flipping," TCAP says. "For example, in attempting to vote for Texas' Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Beto O'Rourke, some straight-ticket voters saw their vote changed to his opponent, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. At the same time, in attempting to vote for Sen. Cruz, some straight-ticket voters' selections were erased altogether." Officials blamed voters, and they urged people to "carefully check their review screen before casting their ballots."

People walk past a polling station as the state votes in the primary election on February 29, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina
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Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is an age-old practice in which the borders of voting districts are distorted to include some people and exclude others, meaning that politicians can "choose their voters — rather than having voters choose them," The Center for American Progress says. You can see the results in Pennsylvania: In 2012, Democratic candidates got about 50% of the votes for House races, yet Republicans took 75% of the congressional seats. During the 2018 midterm elections, millions of voters nationwide cast ballots in gerrymandered districts, including in North Carolina districts that had been declared unconstitutional. Distorted voting districts ultimately violate the principle of one person, one vote and translates into the election of politicians who do not necessarily represent the concerns of their constituents.

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