Q&A (Dear Cindy) | First Time Voters


Dear Cindy:

[For this installment Cindy has tapped our friend Paul O’Hanlon, Esq., an expert in disability rights, who is answering four questions from first-time voters with the hope that by addressing these concerns everyone will feel confident in their right to vote privately and independently in the upcoming election.]

Q: I don’t want to vote by Absentee Ballot because they don’t really count those votes unless the election is close, right?

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Not true. Apologies for being this blunt, but every vote by absentee ballot submitted before the deadline — by 5:00 PM the Friday before the election — is counted on Election night. If an absentee ballot is submitted after the deadline it is considered an “emergency ballot” that is counted after Election night and as part of the “official returns. The “official returns” are the final and official count that comes a few weeks after Election Day, after all emergency ballots and valid provisional ballots are tallied. On Election night we hear a preliminary result, the “unofficial returns.” However, it is important to note that all votes are counted!

Q: I’m not sure that I’m confident enough to vote in public where everyone could watch. What if I need more time or help? Is there a more private way that I could vote?

It can be very scary for a first-time voter, and many new voters need extra time. The early morning and late evening tend to be the busiest times at the polls. The middle of the day tends to be the most quiet, so my advice would be to plan a midday trip to the polls. As far as time, you can have extra time as a reasonable accommodation, and you can get help from the person of your choice (with a few restrictions, like it can’t be your employer, or your union representative, or the person in charge of that election precinct). You can vote by Absentee Ballot if you would rather vote in a more private way.

Q: If I register to vote I hear that I will be called to serve on a jury. Is that true?

This is only partly true. Many active voters are never called for jury duty. But, jurors are selected from a great number of lists from the state. One of those lists is those with driver’s licenses, another is the list of people getting public benefits, and another is a list of property owners. There are so many different lists that are used that you are likely to already be in the pool of potential jurors — so you may as well exercise your right to vote!

Q: What if I go to vote and there is some problem, like they can’t find my name or someone questions whether I have the capacity to vote?

If the poll workers cannot find your name on their list you may ask them if they received any supplemental lists (sometimes names are added too late to get into the official poll book, so a supplemental list is often included of additional voters). If they still cannot find you, ask them to call the county elections office. If they cannot do that or still can’t find your name, ask for a Provisional Ballot. A Provisional Ballot will be one of those votes counted a few weeks later — assuming they find proof that you are registered, or you provide proof that you are registered. If you are challenged (such as on grounds that you are not “competent” you should call Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687- 8683) and call Disability Rights Pennsylvania at 1-800- 692-7443. The PEAL Center is also available to take your calls: 1-866-950-1040.


This article was written for the PEAL Center’s Fall 2016 Newsletter. Read the full newsletter here.

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