What to know about your voting rights

Are you registered to vote? Where should you vote? Do you need ID? Should you vote early? How do you protect your rights?

Voter rights groups nationwide are answering these questions in a massive effort aimed at protecting the right of the American people to be heard on Nov. 4, Election Day.

The loss by more than a million people of their homes through foreclosures in the last two years is just one of the problems the groups are grappling with. People who lose homes can be disqualified if they do not re-register. Many of them have lower incomes or are people of color, majorities of whom vote Democratic. In addition, many of the country’s highest foreclosure rates are in swing states where polls suggest the presidential election is close.

In Michigan, the Obama campaign recently filed suit to prohibit the Republican Party from using foreclosure lists to suppress the vote. In Ohio, voter rights coalitions are helping both homeless people and those in foreclosure by registering them during a special seven day period that began Sept. 30. During that period voters can simultaneously register and cast an early ballot.

Mindy Holmes is the national coordinator of My Vote, My Right, an AFL-CIO voter protection program that works with faith-based and community organizations. The group educates voters, ensures they are able to vote without intimidation and plans to make certain all votes are counted.

My Vote, My Right leaders work in coalitions with communities that have historically faced barriers to voting. The focus is on such communities in battleground states including Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Missouri.

Although election regulations vary from state to state, there are things everyone should know, said Holmes.

“The most important thing for voters to do is check and verify the current status of their registration and make sure it’s updated and to know exactly where they need to vote on Election Day. And do it now before the registration deadlines and make sure you’re on the rolls,” said Holmes.

Most voter registration deadlines nationwide are Oct. 6. Voters who want to check their status can go to or call 1-866 MY VOTE1 or speak with a lawyer at 1-866 OUR-VOTE.

In most states a photo ID is not required but Holmes suggests that if voters have one they should bring it anyway. “The most important thing is that people need to vote and to be smart about it,” Holmes said.

She predicts long lines at the polls, “So we are telling people to be prepared and stick it out and not to be discouraged. We want to provide support and encourage people to wait it out in order to vote,” she said.

The other thing is that people should cast an early vote, if allowed in their state, Holmes said.

In Virginia’s Montgomery County, home to Virgina Tech University, a statement was released in August by election officials suggesting that students who register at their college might lose their right to be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns or could lose scholarships, financial aid, and car and health insurance. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia exposed the move as a vote suppression effort and informed students all over the state of their right to vote where they attend school.

There is a difference between “voter fraud” which Republicans say they are fighting against and voter protection being fought for by progressive, labor and civil rights groups, added Holmes.

“Proponents fighting ‘voter fraud’ say voting is not an entitlement and people shouldn’t just have the right to vote and it’s a sacrifice voters make to have that right. On the other hand voter protection advocates are encouraging full participation and try to remove barriers to voters…

“People who are dealing with the economic crisis, joblessness or home foreclosures should not be shut out,” said Holmes. “Many of them have found a candidate that energizes them and voters are turning out like never before. I think that’s awesome and I hope Nov. 4 has that effect.”

plozano @pww.org

Registration deadlines approaching soon!

Find out if you are registered to vote:



(Obama campaign)



(Nonpartisan National Association of Secretaries of State)



Voter protection information:



(Non-partisan election protection)



(AFL-CIO site, includes voting rights tool kits.)