Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Time to Vote: Things to Remember

I authored an article on voting for the Beacon Hill Times, on behalf of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, that will appear next week. It's below in its raw, unedited form. I figure it might provide some tips to those voting in Massachusetts on November 4.

NOTE: These tips apply to Massachusetts voters only (more specifically Boston). Rules might vary in other states.


Beacon Hill, it's time to vote. Beyond the civic reasons, many people in various levels of government pay close attention to who votes. By voting, we increase our voice to our elected officials.

That being said, below is a list of eleven tips related to the voting process. On Beacon Hill, we vote at one of three voting locations, depending on which part of the hill you live on: City Hall, The West End Library on Cambridge Street, and at the Firehouse on Mount Vernon. As noted below, your voting location depends precisely on where you live.

Here goes:

1) Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4. That's more than twelve hours to find the time to vote. Boston election officials are expecting a huge turnout. Lines are not too common, believe it or not, except at the beginning of the day. And if you are in a line, make friends with your neighbors.

2) Don't forget to read the entire ballot. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement this year to vote in the Presidential race. However, there are other items on the ballot that are of significance to Beacon Hill voters. For example, three ballot questions have spiked quite a bit of debate, including Question 1, which if passed would eliminate the state income tax. Roughly 2/3 of the neighborhood also has a contested State Senate race on the ballot.

3) For absentee ballots, don't forget proper postage. One stamp will not suffice to mail absentee ballots to City Hall. Correct postage is is 59 cents, and to be safe, affix two regular first-class stamps.

4) If you make a mistake at the voting booth, you can request a new ballot. Voters sometimes make mistakes. They misread a ballot, or they drop their pen, and it leaves a stray mark. If this happens, you can ask the warden in the polling location or an assistant for a new ballot. They will mark your original ballot void and give you a new one.

5) If they say you can't vote, don't just walk away. Polling officials have received elaborate instructions on what to do should a voter arrive who is not listed on their voting lists. No polling official wants to deny you the right to vote. They can call Boston City Hall for you. Depending on the rules, you are allowed to cast a ballot provisionally even if you are not listed on the voter roles. You made the effort to get to the polling location; don't leave unless your ballot is cast.

6) Don't wear any political buttons, t-shirts, etc. into the polling place. Technically, you are not allowed to advertise for anything related to the election, including candidates, positions on ballot questions, etc., while you are inside the voting booth. You are allowed to bring in notes and other information to help you vote the way you'd like.

7) Volunteers outside cannot block your way into the polling place. It is completely legal for individuals to stand outside the voting booth, hold signs, advocate for a candidate or position, and to give you literature. However, they cannot harass you. If you had trouble getting to the voting location, tell the warden inside. Their job is to protect your right to vote.

8) If you suddenly are going to be out of town on election day, you can vote in person at City Hall during normal business hours the week before the election. Typically you have until noon the day before the election, and the Elections Department is even willing to make special appointments. Call the Elections Department for more information at 617-635-3767.

9) "Where do I vote?" is a very common question. Your polling location is specific, because it relates directly to where you live. You cannot vote in any other location. Period. Not anywhere else in Boston, and certainly not anywhere else in another city or town. If you are concerned about where you should vote, call the Elections Department at 617-635-3767 and they will tell you. There is also a very simple way to look up your own information through the City of Boston website ( You can use the website to verify your registration and your polling location.

10) If you are in line when the polls close at 8 p.m., you still have the right to vote. If it's 7:59 when you arrive, and you see a line, don't walk away. The warden will look at the line when the polls close and will mark the spot at the end of the line. Remember, the warden wants you to vote, and if you are in line, they are happy you are there.

11) Take your time. You can spend as much time as you want inside the polling place and reading your ballot. If anything is confusing to you, ask the warden.

Enjoy the experience. Remember, every election is historic in its own way. Be a part of it!

No comments: