If you have a problem at the Massachusetts polls, here’s what should you do

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By Trevor Ballantyne
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in The Metro West Daily News.

BOSTON – Election officials want you to know the rules of the road for Nov. 6, from when polls open to where to take your post-voting selfie.

“We would prefer that you take your ‘I Voted’ sticker selfie once you have exited the polling station,” said Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections.

Although a federal court in New Hampshire rejected a ban on voters taking selfies with their ballots last year, O’Malley said the Massachusetts law applying to taking a selfie with your ballot, “remains on the books.”

That provision bans voters from allowing their marked ballot “to be seen by any person for any purpose not authorized by law.” That would include using caution in using social media in the voting booth.

As you prepare to cast your vote, here are some other things to know about your rights at the polls on Tuesday:

Where do I vote in state elections and what will be on the ballot?

Unlike many other states, elections in Massachusetts are organized at the municipal vs. county level. This means each municipality’s voting stations and hours of operation vary. Ballots also vary by city or town and will reflect local races and additional questions that may be listed for your municipality in addition to three main statewide questions.

Voting stations must be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, “though towns are allowed to open as early as 5:45 a.m.,” according to the elections division.

Voters should check with their local election officials for polling hours and station locations. The state website provides access information for all municipalities in the state:

Does Massachusetts use electronic voting machines?

No. Massachusetts uses a paper ballot system. It’s not the MCAS, so leave the No. 2 pencils at home. Pens will be provided for you to fill in bubbles next to your vote. Once you have completed your ballot, you will most likely feed it directly into a collection machine – in any direction and any side up.

How long does it take to vote in Massachusetts?

By law, you are allowed up to 10 minutes to cast your vote if there is no line; and up to five minutes if people are waiting. Election organization at the municipality means your polling station will likely be located in your neighborhood vs. in a county-run system where centers can be far away and handle larger volumes of voters.

Since “there are no central polling locations in Massachusetts,” O’Malley said, “we don’t usually see the lines that some others states see.”

Can I get time off from work to vote in Massachusetts?

Yes, but only if you work in the “manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishment,” state law says. Employers in those industries must permit employees eligible to vote an opportunity to cast their ballot “during the period of two hours after the opening of the polls.”

That law was last updated in 1913 and only applies to the narrow selection of industries. The Secretary of State’s office advises voters to not only spend the time to review the candidates and questions on your ballot but to vote early or plan ahead for Election Day to ensure you make it to your voting station during its hours of operation.

Do I need identification to vote in state and local elections in Massachusetts?

If you are an inactive voter, meaning you registered to vote but your current address is not listed correctly on the voter roll, you may be asked to produce identification.

“We recommend bringing an ID to the polls if you think you could be inactive,” said O’Malley. “Just to be safe.”

Accepted forms of identification needed to confirm your address include a utility bill, rent receipt or lease. Of course, your driver’s license or any government-issued form of identification with your current address will work.

If you do not produce identification, your vote will be challenged. The provisional ballot you cast will be counted normally once the “voter is determined to be registered,” according to the elections division.

A provisional ballot can also be cast if your name is not on the list of registered voters at your precinct station but you believe it should be.

To learn more or find out your voting status, go to the website.

What if I have moved from where I was registered to vote within the last six months?

A “six-month rule” allows voters to cast their ballot in their old precinct within six months of the election.

So even if you forgot to update your address before the registration deadline, “you can still vote from the old address,” O’Malley said.

Can I bring my children into the voting booth with me?

Yes. Bring your children but leave your beverages in the car. State law allows you two replacement ballots should you spill your large iced coffee on your paper or soil it in any way.

O’Malley said officials “recommend against bringing any food or beverages into the voting station with you.”

If you don’t think you filled the circle in correctly, don’t worry. If the machines that count ballots cannot read your ballot, your vote will be counted by hand.

Can I talk to anyone at the voting station?

Other than polling station workers, there is a strict no-approach policy. Campaign employees or friendly journalists may introduce themselves within 150 feet from a polling place. Election observers are permitted within each station under state law. They will sit or stand in a designated area but are not allowed to speak to anyone at the station except for the election warden.

Can you vote if you are on military assignment during the early voting period and on Election Day?

Yes. If you are in the military will be deployed on Election Day, you can register for an absentee ballot up until 4 p.m. on Monday.

What if you are disabled?

Every voting station is required to be handicap accessible. But if you are physically unable to get to the voting booth, you may apply for an absentee ballot when you register to vote.

Do I need to speak English to vote?

No. As a registered voter in Massachusetts, you have the right to vote even if you are not an English speaker or are unable to read or write for any reason.

You may request assistance by a state-trained and certified election worker at your voting location should you need help.

Do I need my naturalization papers to vote in Massachusetts if I recently became a citizen?

No. Voting station volunteers will not ask you to produce any photo identification for state and local elections.

If you have any questions or concerns while you are at your voting station, connect with an election official on-site or one of their assistants at the registration table. They are required by law to be trained and certified annually during a session provided at no cost to them or their municipality.

If you have questions about your local voting process before Tuesday, consult your municipality’s election officials or access the Secretary of State’s website, which includes a Bill of Voters’ Rights.

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