How to Vote Without Running Into Danger

So we come, at long last, to the end of this interminable election.

Paid political consultants aside, there aren't many people who will be sad to see this campaign end. Many more of us only hope that it actually is over on Tuesday night. This has been a parade of ugliness, an election marred by threats of violence, rising anger and an unsavory intervention by the FBI.

And now that the candidates have done their parts, it's time for the rest of us to do ours.

This is a country built by a billion hands. It's an idea so basic that one of our founding documents begins with "we the people," written by men who would have laughed, while possibly raising the militia, in the face of a man claiming to be the only person who can keep America safe. That legacy comes with an enormous responsibility though.

Every two years we are entrusted to overthrow the government and choose a new one. On Tuesday it's time to do so again. Here are a few useful tips as you prepare to cast your ballot:

Staying Safe

There are credible threats of violence at the polls on Tuesday.

This doesn't mean that you need to be scared, and you absolutely should still go vote, but it does call for people to be careful.

"I think there's a fairly big risk," said Richard Roth to speak on this issue, a former member of the Secret Service and executive director of CTI security consulting. "Not something that I would call the gendarmes on, but I have put out there that everyone needs to keep their eye open."

"The threats that we've gotten last night and this morning, they're basically saying, 'Yeah they [Al Qaeda] are going to try and affect the elections,'" Roth added. "It wouldn't be anything for some lone wolf to get a weapon and try and stat shooting, and that would have some effect."

Terrorist threats against polling places, both for Monday and Tuesday, have been judged credible. Security officials are worried about lone wolf gunmen similar to the Orlando shooting, self-radicalized individuals launching low-tech attacks with assault rifles or other similar weaponry.

The best advice, Roth said, is to keep your eyes open. Know your exits and tell local police or election officials if you see something suspicious.

"I think it's real enough that I would be concerned," Roth said. "The key is to look around for someone that looks out of place, because they're going to stand out like a sore thumb."

Don't be scared, be aware, and listen to the voice in the back of your head. Instinct is usually little more than knowing something before your conscious brain realizes what's going on. If a situation feels off, go get a cup of coffee and come back later.

Are you registered?

The best way to find out if you're registered to vote is by going directly to your state's Secretary of State website. While there's a network of third party sites that all promise to look up your registration status, they're often unreliable. (I, for example, tested several popular ones such as Vote.org and Rock the Vote, each of which told me I was ineligible based on information entered from my voter registration card.)

It's best to go directly to the source.

If you're not registered to vote, it may not be too late. Twelve states/districts offer same day registration, and it's very important to remember that in these states you can show up and vote. They are:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Washington D.C.
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Bring a valid, government issued photo ID and proof of residence to your polling place. For more information, see the National Conference of State Legislatures' website here.

Readers should note: although there was some confusion regarding same day registration in Illinois, it will take effect for the 2016 election. Voters who are not yet registered can do so at the polls.

Where do you vote?

Finding your ballot can be a tricky thing. Every state and jurisdiction sets its own rules about what can and cannot serve as a polling place. Some allow even private residences, while others require that the polls be held in a municipal location. Still, whether placed in a forgotten community center or posted by someone's backyard grill, it's important that you find your voting booth.

The best option is Google. If you enter "Where's my polling place?" the site responds with a helpful prompt to enter your street address, followed by a map to your exact polling station.

If that doesn't do it for you, though, try Headcount.org's handy lookup tool, which offers the same service.

Local elections…

Here's the thing about voting, most of us only pay attention to the race for president, or maybe state governor.

Yet, and it cannot be said often enough, down ballot candidates matter much, much more to your daily life than the name on top of the ticket. Members of Congress have vastly more power than the President, when they choose to use it, and local politics decide such issues as what classes are taught at the local high school, what shops get zoned into your town, and what time the library closes.

Oh, and property taxes. Like winter, revaluation is coming. All of these things have a vast and immediate effect on your time, your life and your money.

How to make sense of all those down-ballot candidates then? Try Ballotpedia's Local Politics Portal, available here. It breaks down every state and municipal election by candidates and issue, so that you can understand what those other 20 candidates stand for when you get in the booth.

Local politics is the lifeblood of who's spending your money and how. You can't afford not to know.

Time Off to Vote

It may seem odd today, but the reason we hold elections on a November Tuesday is because that was once when everyone could take some time to come in and vote without interfering with work or the Sabbath.

Now, a law that was written for 18th century farmers doesn't really apply to a getting a few hours off from your shift at H&M. Fortunately a few states have kept up with the times. As we have covered in the past, many states protect a worker's right to take time off for voting.

This list remains accurate today. If you're not sure whether you can take some time off to hit the polls, check it out. A few states even require that you get paid.

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