Questions And Answers On Voting Rules As Election Day draws near, listeners and readers from around the country have been submitting questions about voting regulations. NPR's Pam Fessler answers some of those most frequently asked.
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Questions And Answers On Voting Rules

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Questions And Answers On Voting Rules

Questions And Answers On Voting Rules

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Earlier this week we asked you for your questions about voting and the sometimes confusing rules under which you may vote this fall. We're joined by NPR's Pam Fessler who covers voting issues. Welcome back to studios.

PAM FESSLER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we're going to listen to some of the questions that people sent in. Starting with Namita Biggins of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ms. NAMITA BIGGINS (Resident, Charlotte, North Carolina): Is it true that with early voting, which is the same as absentee voting in some states, the votes are only counted if there is a tie?

FESSLER: Well, the answer is, they are counted no matter what. And this is a very important question this year because we expect a lot of people to show up at the polls early.

INSKEEP: That's already happening, right?

FESSLER: That's right. Officials expect, nationwide, as many as 30 percent of the electorate could cast early and absentee votes and in some states it would be a lot more.

INSKEEP: OK. So your vote will count or is supposed to be counted even if you vote earlier or absentee. We have another question here from Rebecca Simmons of Phoenix, Arizona.

Ms. REBECCA SIMMONS (Caller): I've heard of absentee ballots. But what is early voting? And how do the laws differ from state to state?

INSKEEP: Here we go.

FESSLER: The laws do differ from state to state and that's why there's so much confusion about elections. Absentee ballots are usually done on paper. You send them though the mail. In some states you have to have an excuse. You have to be away on election day. A lot of other states, you do not need an excuse, if you want to vote absentee, you can, But you should always make sure that you fill in all the lines. Make sure you sign them and used the correct postage. Now, early in-person voting, which is allowed in 34 states, usually involves going to your local election office and voting on the same kind of equipment that you would use on election day. It's one way that officials are hoping to shorten on the lines on November 4.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, some people will be showing up on November 4th to vote and here's a question from one of those people.

Mr. VALDEZ BRAVO (Caller): I'm Valdez Bravo. And I was wondering what is being done to ensure that an appropriate amount of voting machines will be placed in voting districts? For the past couple of presidential elections, there were disproportionate voting resources available for African-American communities as opposed to white middle-class communities across town.

FESSLER: That's a great question. As you might remember, there were long lines in 2004, especially in Ohio. Some people actually waited for 10 hours to vote. So this year, especially in Ohio, they are trying to make that doesn't happen again, that there's at least one machine for every 175 registered voters. There's also going to be paper ballots available for voters who want to use them. But every state's different. In Virginia for example, they only require a minimum of one machine for every 750 voters. A lot of it's just a guessing game. A lot of election officials don't know who's going to show up where. They also don't know if machines are going to break down, long ballots, if voters are going to be confused. So that's why so many officials are recommending that people vote early if they can and if you don't, expect long lines.

INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler is asking some questions from voters including this one.

Ms. BARBARA ARNOLD (Caller): Hi, I'm Barbara Arnold and I live in Boulder, Colorado. I'm wondering what will happen on November 4th, if the polls are scheduled to close and there's still people waiting in line to vote. And what if there aren't enough paper ballots available? What happens then?

INSKEEP: Hasn't this happened in past elections?

FESSLER: Well, sometimes they do run out of paper ballots. Some jurisdictions, they have allowed people to actually just write their choices on a scrap of paper. And they will count it. But in a lot of other places, they don't count that, so you might be out of luck if they run out of paper ballots.

INSKEEP: Haven't there also been cases where judges have extended the polling times by hours?

FASSLER: Right, exactly. If you are on line when the polling place is scheduled to close, you will be allowed to vote but there have, as you say, been exceptional cases where there has been a lot of confusion. The parties or candidates have gone to court, extend the polling hours. In that case, then you have to vote a provisional ballot which is a paper ballot which will be counted later, after they've determined that you are an eligible voter.

INSKEEP: A lot of people are also asking, Pam, how can they be sure they're registered correctly before they show up to vote?

FESSLER: They can always call there local election office and check. Make sure the registrations are in order. Or there is a great website called, which allows people in most states to check online to see if they're registered.

INSKEEP: OK. Now before we go, there is one other question that I think it's important to get to. I comes from listener Timothy Brumett of Austin, Texas who asks, can he bring his beer into the voting booth or would that be considered too political, because he drinks Independence pale ale.

FESSLER: Well, sorry, Timothy. I've checked and it looks like you are not allowed to bring beer into the polling place - any liquor into the polling place, no matter what it says. It's either outright - it's banned outright or definitely frowned upon. But I actually did check and it turns out that was not always the case. Back in Chicago in the 1880s, it was actually encouraged to drink at the polls because a lot of them were at saloons.

INSKEEP: Pam Fessler, cheers.

FESSLER: Thank you,

INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler answers even more listener questions at

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