Where, when and how: voters still confused about voting on election day

Shaileen Poress, a volunteer with Common Cause Massachusetts stands outside the Moses Youth Center Polling Station in Cambridge, MA. Photo by Shwetha Surendran/BU News Service

By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service

Months of campaigning and debates between President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden centered on policy questions like higher tax rates and healthcare. But search data from Google Trends in the days leading up to Nov. 3 show that seemingly smaller, yet crucial, questions such as voter registration and identification requirements are still left unclear.

Pre-election Registration

Starting at a score of 32 at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2, Google search data shows a gradual increase in interest in “how to register to vote”. Residents in states such as Wyoming and Idaho were logging this search term in the most. By election morning, the query had spiked significantly with a score of 100, the highest score on the scale. Another search making the rounds was “how to check if I’m registered to vote”. With a score of 100, Alabama recorded the maximum number of searches for it at 5:28 p.m. on election day, while California had the lowest score at 26. 

Minnesota saw over 1.7 million people vote early by Nov. 2. But as for the rest of its population, there was still some confusion over “where do I vote” on election day. Both Minnesota and Alabama hit maximum scores, seeing a sharp increase in searches for registered polling locations on Nov. 2. With scores in the 90s, the same trend also continued in Iowa, Georgia, and Rhode Island to name a few.

Voter Protection

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, in-person voting at poll stations began at 7 a.m. With short lines in the first few hours, waiting times were no longer than 10 minutes. But the city wasn’t taking its chances when it came to voter protection. 

Shaileen Poress, 47, a volunteer with Common Cause Massachusetts, stood outside the Moses Youth Center with an election protection sign and a mask mirroring the information on the sign. 

“I’m not expecting any voter problems in this state. Massachusetts is pretty well-run,” she said. “When I first moved here, I thought I’d always have to show identification to vote but soon learned otherwise. Now that I’ve educated myself, I see how something as simple as having an ID might be harder for and discriminatory against other demographics.”

There’s evidence for Poress’s statement. Voter suppression on election day takes many forms. One of the murkier ones is voter identification. “Do I need a real id to vote in 2020” recorded a Google Trends Breakout Tuesday morning, meaning its search interest grew by over 5000 percent. “What do I need to vote” was also trending at a full score at 3 p.m. in Missouri, a state which requires voters to present photo identification at the poll.

As a valuable solution, Poress suggested educating oneself with provisional ballots. Google Trends also reflects a growing interest in the same. 

Provisional ballots” recorded maximum scores over election day in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, while “how are provisional ballots verified” had a breakout increase in interest. 

As the hours tick by and election day draws to a close, all eyes turn to what the past few months have been about – the results. “President of the United States” on Google Trends is having a moment, with 51 subregions in the United States recording varying levels of search interest from a score of 35 to a 100 as of Tuesday evening, with Mississippi registering the highest interest.

Unsurprisingly, “what time do they announce the President” is having one too. 

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