Vote Here Sign

What to Expect... When You Vote in the Polling Place

Every Election Year, you have the opportunity to vote in both primary elections to choose your party's nominees, and then the general election in November. U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) maintains a comprehensive list of all upcoming elections in our Election Dates and Deadlines calendar, by state.

There are lots of different ways to cast a ballot. Many voters will decide to vote-by-mail, either by completing and returning a ballot automatically sent to you or after you've submitted an absentee ballot request to your local election office. Absentee voting, or vote-by-mail, is a convenient option, especially if you have health concerns or don’t want to wait in line on Election Day.

But many voters prefer the feeling of walking into a polling place, physically submitting or scanning a ballot, and getting an “I Voted!” sticker, which you can be proud to wear.

For voters who wish to vote in person, here's a list of what to expect at the polling place.

First things first  - what to do before the election!

  • Registration Check / Update: At least six to eight weeks before your election date, check that you’re registered to vote.  If you recently changed your address, name, or party, make sure to update your registration. You may be able to go online to your state, find your record and make the change there, but you also may need to file a new voter registration application.

    If you are a first-time voter, you will need to complete your state's registration form and make sure you have a signature on file. Every state but North Dakota requires citizens to register before voting. While some offer "same day" registration on either Election Day or during the early in-person voting period, many states still require that voters register roughly 30 days before the election. Get informed on your state’s requirements and options today!

  • Voter ID: Check to see if your state requires ID to vote in person. Each state has different rules, with some requiring no ID, others requiring documentary proof of residence like a utility bill or paycheck stub, and others still requiring a photo ID, which is usually a current government ID such as a state driver’s license.

    Find your state’s ID requirements, and take any necessary steps to either obtain or update the correct form. If you run into roadblocks, consider contacting VoteRiders for assistance.  Note that if you’re a first-time registrant and voter, under federal law, you may be asked for documentary proof of residence, such as a utility bill.  

  • Find Your Polling Place: You'll then need to find your polling place location. It's important to check and verify your polling place location before you drive or walk there. Even if you’ve voted at the same school or post office for years, polling place closures and changes regularly happen. Please go to the State Lookup Tools section of the US Vote State Voter Information to find your state's Polling Place Locator tool and confirm where you’re supposed to vote this year. Then make a plan to get there.
  • Dress for Non-partisanship: Some states prohibit you from wearing a candidate’s t-shirt or other paraphernalia such as buttons and signs in the polling place because it could be considered campaigning, or electioneering, which is illegal in many jurisdictions. Play it safe and dress without campaign messaging on your person, or contact your local election official to check the rules.


Ready to Vote - What's Next?

You’ve registered, brought your ID, and arrived at your polling place.  Here’s what to expect next:

Outside the polling place.…

  • As you approach... the entrance to the polling place – often a school, government building, or place of worship – you’ll likely notice lots of campaign signs and even candidates or their staff. It’s up to you whether to engage with them, but all campaigning and electioneering are prohibited by a certain cut-off point, usually within 100 feet of the polling place’s entrance.
  • If you are intimidated... or harassed, either inside or outside of the polling place, please report it to the Election Protection hotline run by 866OurVote.

    Voter intimidation can include things like making threats, standing close while questioning one’s right to vote, interrogating one’s political choices, and brandishing a gun. Note that, in some states, law enforcement officials are permitted to secure the premises, so don’t be alarmed if you see a uniformed police officer or sheriff in uniform at the polling place.

  • If you are wary of waiting in line... come prepared. It's hard to predict if for you whether your polling place will have a line on the day and time that you are there, so just in should arrive prepared. And try not to arrive in a rush. Bring the basics: comfortable shoes, a jacket, an umbrella, depending on the weather, a fold-up chair, water, and maybe even a snack. We also advise a fully-charged phone. 

Inside the polling place.…

  • Sign-in / Enter: At the polling place’s entrance, you will likely be instructed by a poll worker to sign in, either on a poll book or paper voting roll. Your signature will be assessed against the one on file. You may also be asked for your ID. You will either be given a ballot or instructed to stand in another line to obtain your ballot.
  • Time to vote!  Most counties use optical scanners, which are machines into which the voter scans a completed ballot, or direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) on which a voter selects candidates from the screen. You will probably vote on one of these machines.
  • Language Assistance: If you need assistance to vote because you have difficulty reading or writing English – either due to language barriers or otherwise – then you may bring someone of your choice into the voting booth/area. Note that in most states, you cannot bring anyone who works for you or works for your union.

    You may also ask a poll worker or election official for assistance. Note that in some jurisdictions, due to provisions in the Voting Rights Act, you are entitled to assistance including translation and interpretation of voting materials for particular languages mentioned in the law. Ask your local election office or ask at your polling place for more information.

  • Disabled Voting: All polling places must be made accessible to those with physical disabilities. This includes the provision of at least one accessible voting machine at the polling place.  Parking lots, hallways, and voting spaces must all be made accessible, too.
  • Thank You Goes a Long Way! Don’t forget to thank your poll worker!  Many poll workers will have been working since before 6 am and do this work as volunteers to ensure that every citizen gets to cast a ballot – work that’s essential to a functioning democracy.  Some, too, have faced threats for doing their job as required, in a nonpartisan way, and would likely appreciate a kind acknowledgment.  


What to do If something goes wrong

  • If you are told by a poll worker that your name has not been found on the voting roll/register, you still have options:
    • (1) If you live in a state with same-day registration, you can register that day and then vote;
    • (2) If you think you might be in the wrong polling place, ask the poll worker to identify your correct polling place and then go there;
    • (3) If you’re at the right place, but your name still can’t be found on the register and your state doesn’t offer same-day registration, then you may still vote by provisional ballot, which will be counted if election officials verify that you’re qualified to vote and did so in the right jurisdiction. Note that laws regarding how provisional ballots get counted vary from state to state.  After voting, the poll worker will give you information so that you can check whether your ballot was counted.


  • In many states, election judges and/or registered voters are legally permitted to challenge a voter’s qualifications, like citizenship, age, or residence, at the polling place. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to you, but if you are challenged when voting, remember, you still have rights. In the rare event of a challenge, you will likely be permitted to vote with a regular or provisional ballot after attesting by oath to your identity and voter qualifications. 
  • Remember: If you believe you are qualified to vote and that you are already registered to vote, then you’re permitted to vote using a provisional ballot, even if the poll worker can’t find your name on the register.  If you forgot an ID in a state that requires it for voting, you may vote a provisional ballot at the polling place and then produce the ID at a local election office within a specified period of time.
  • Importantly, if you get in line to vote by the time polls close, you are legally entitled to vote -- no matter how long it takes to get to the front of the line!

Be informed, get ready, and..... Go Vote!