Know Your Rights

✔ Prepare to Be Your Own Advocate

The right to vote is core to a functioning democracy. Yet over the past few years, disinformation-driven waves on voter suppression bills have been written into law across the nation — adding new confusion and stress for voters, especially voters of color and young voters.

While roadblocks may exist, understanding your rights as a voter can help combat voter suppression. You can start by looking up your state’s voting policies to get familiar with the important deadlines, options, ID requirements, ballot drop and polling locations, and more so you can be your own advocate.

If you vote in-person, have information handy (screenshot or bookmarked on your phone) so you can advocate for yourself or others in case you believe you are misinformed at the polls.

Election Protection Hotline:


Contact the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you have any questions or face issues at the polls. The Election Protection Hotline is staffed by volunteer lawyers to help you with your questions. Reports also provide voting rights groups with data to monitor where there are trouble areas to send reinforcements.

Flexible Voting Options

✔ Learn About Your Flexible Voting Options

Every state (and sometimes county) is different.

The two main options are: early voting and absentee/mail voting.

Early voting is in-person voting during a designated period, usually two to three weeks before an election. Some states call this in-person absentee voting. During early voting, polling places are often consolidated, and hours may provide flexibility in the morning, evening, or weekends.

Absentee/mail voting is when a voter completes their ballot at home and mails it in or drops it off at a designated drop site in available states. Absentee voting is often called vote-by-mail.

Check to see your state’s requirements and policies.

Absentee / Vote-by-Mail

✔ Voting Absentee or By Mail

Most states require you to request an absentee or mail-in ballot if you wish to vote by mail or complete your ballot at home and drop it off. There are deadlines both to request and to return your ballot.

There are also a few states that conduct elections by mail. In those states, you will automatically receive a ballot to vote at home.

Be sure to pay attention to when your ballot request or completed ballot must be received by election officials, and not just when it must be postmarked.

To ensure your ballot is accepted and counted, pay close attention to the instructions provided with your absentee/mail ballot. For example:

  • Are you required to have a witness(es) sign your ballot envelope? Does your ballot need to be notarized?
  • Are you required to sign and date your envelope (or mark if you are unable to sign)? Did you sign your name the way you usually do as it might be compared to the signature you used when you registered or got your driver’s license?
  • Was there an envelope or multiple envelopes that came with your ballot? Did you stuff your ballot the correct way as you may need to stuff your ballot into one envelope and then put it in another envelope.
  • If you are mailing your ballot, do you need postage?

Find out how to vote absentee/by mail and your options to return your ballot in your state.

Some states have proactively sent out absentee/mail ballot request forms and a few sent out absentee/mail ballots to registered voters.


✔ Returning Your Absentee/Mail Ballot

There are deadlines for when your absentee/mail ballot must be received by election officials. It’s critical to look at the date when your ballot must be received by election officials, and not just when it must be postmarked.

In addition to returning your ballot by mail, almost all states allow voters to drop off their ballot at designated drop locations. Some ballot drop locations may experience lines on Election Day, so plan ahead to ensure your ballot is received by the deadline. Some states also allow voters to deliver their friends’, family members’, and dependents’ ballots and have instructions for taking advantage of this option.

Voters with disabilities or other rare circumstances may be eligible to have an agent from your local election office come to your residence and pick up your completed ballot. Each state (and sometimes each county) has different options and processes.

Check out Rock the Vote’s Election Center or contact your local election office to find out more about what the possibilities and locations are in your state.


✔ Tracking Your Absentee/Mail Ballot

Many states allow you to track your absentee or mail ballot online so you can have assurance it will be received on time. If your state does not have a tool for tracking your ballot, and you have concerns that it might not be received in time, contact your local election official.

Issues With Your Ballot

✔ Spoiled Ballots

If you damaged or made a mistake while completing your absentee/mail ballot, you’ll need to request a new ballot to ensure your vote is accurately recorded. If you’re voting absentee, contact your local elections office to find out the process for requesting a new ballot. If you’re voting in person, ask a poll worker for assistance.


✔ Never Received Your Requested Ballot

If you do not have your absentee ballot because it never arrived in the mail, it became lost, or you forgot it: Each state has a process for getting a replacement ballot. In some cases, you will complete a provisional ballot that will be counted once it’s been verified you did not already vote. Check your in-person voting options for your state if you never received your ballot

Know How to Change How You Want to Vote

✔ You Can Usually Change Your Mind About Your Method of Voting

Many states have protocols in place that allow voters who requested an absentee/mail ballot or voted using an absentee ballot to vote in-person.

If you have your absentee/mail ballot and decide you want to vote in person:

Take it with you to the polls. Depending on your state you may be able to use the absentee ballot as your in-person ballot. Alternatively, poll workers may take your absentee/mail ballot to mark it as spoiled and then provide you with a new in-person ballot. If you decide to vote in-person and have the option to vote early, do so.

Your Rights at the Polls

✔ Poll Workers are Temporary Workers. Many Will Be New.

Poll workers are regular people just like us who sign up to help each election. They are well-meaning and perform an important civic function, and many are well-trained and experienced. But these are temporary positions, and many poll workers will be new this year. And sometimes poll workers rely on old information or are misinformed. They do not have all the answers.

This is why it’s important to be familiar with the voting policies in your state/county. Should you believe you are being misinformed, refer the poll worker to the correct information from your state or local election officials.

If you believe your rights are being violated, contact the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.


✔ Provisional Ballots

Provisional ballots help ensure voters are not excluded from the voting process due to an administrative error. A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when the eligibility of a voter is in question and needs to be resolved before the vote is counted.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 guarantees that a voter is entitled to vote using a provisional ballot if the voter states they are entitled to a vote. Some states call provisional ballots “challenge ballots” or “affidavit ballots”.

A voter may be asked to complete a provisional ballot if there is uncertainty about the voter’s eligibility. For example, this could include cases in which the potential voter’s name is not on the voter rolls; required documentation in the state, such as an acceptable form of identification or proof of residency, is not presented when trying to vote; or even if records show the potential voter received an absentee or mail-in ballot already.

In most states, provisional ballots are kept separate from other ballots until after the election and a determination is made as to whether each voter was eligible to vote, and therefore if the ballot should be counted. Usually within the first day or two after an election, election officials will investigate the provisional ballots to determine eligibility. You may have steps you need to take to make your ballot count.

Voters who used a provisional ballot can and should proactively reach out to their election official to provide information or documentation to help resolve questions about their eligibility to vote.


✔ Check If You Can Vote With A Regular Ballot

If you’re instructed to vote provisionally, ask why and make sure the information is accurate. You may be eligible to complete a regular ballot.

Call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR VOTE to explain the situation and see if you should vote using a regular or provisional ballot based on your specific circumstance.


✔ Don’t Be Turned Away Without Asking for A Provisional Ballot

If you are told you cannot vote using a regular ballot, you should state you are entitled to a vote and ask for a provisional ballot.


✔ Stay In Line, Even If It’s Past Closing Hours

If you are in line when polls close, stay in line — you have the right to vote.

Save 1-866-OUR-VOTE in Your Phone

Contact the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you have any questions or face issues at the polls. The Election Protection Hotline is staffed by volunteer lawyers to help you with your questions. Reports also provide voting rights groups with data to monitor where there are trouble areas to send reinforcements.

After Election Day

✔ Be Patient with Results

It’s our right to have an accurate and fair count of our elections — that means all voters’ ballots must be counted. Because absentee ballots may account for a large percentage of votes and the delivery times of these ballots vary, we will need to be prepared to wait for election results while every eligible vote is counted. This is not a sign that there’s a problem — it’s a sign that the democratic process is working and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard!


Pay Attention Even After You Vote

It will be critical to ensure every vote is counted this election.

✔ Contested and Provisional Ballots

If there are questions about the legitimacy of your ballot for any reason, your local election office may try to contact you via email or mail. Alternatively, they may post notices or make announcements for voters to take additional action after the election. There are a limited number of days to respond as election officials have to count ballots by a certain deadline.

If you voted using a provisional ballot, use Rock the Vote’s ballot tracking and curing tool for next steps. Be sure to proactively follow up with your elections official to resolve any questions.

✔ Run Off Elections

Some elections require a candidate to win at least 51% to be selected as the winner of the election. Should no candidate win 51% of the vote, a runoff election will be held, most often a month or two later between the top two candidates in that election.

Many voters are not as aware of runoff elections as they receive far less attention.

Sign up for Rock the Vote’s election reminders or use any of our tools and we will use your address to notify you of any runoff elections.

This content was created by Rock the Vote in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice.