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Federal Agency Exists to Help Election VIPs: the Voters

Election Assistance Commission aims to ensure all eligible voters can cast ballots.

By Camilla Rodriguez Guzman  |  June 12, 2024

Beyond the ballot box lies a simple truth: Voters are the most important people in all elections.

Tom Hicks, with the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, focuses on these very important people in a recent NCSL webinar covering voters with disabilities, citizens residing abroad, military personnel and more. The topics are critical to Hicks’ agency, which works with the states to develop and share best practices on election administration.

Voter Registration

Voters’ involvement in the democratic process begins with voter registration. Methods and deadlines vary by state but typically involve filling out a state or national voter registration form, on paper or online. “These forms collect information such as where the voter lives, where they receive their mail and party affiliation, if they have one,” Hicks says. Voter registration lists are constantly being updated with new registrations, address changes and other eligibility revisions. “Maintaining an accurate voter registration list is vital for safeguarding election integrity,” Hicks says, noting that all states have list maintenance protocols.


But how do we vote? This is where a good attorney’s favorite phrase—“It depends”—comes in. The methods vary depending on the state: Some conduct in-person voting; others vote mostly by mail. “Eight states and Washington, D.C., primarily run elections via mail,” Hicks says. “So, when voters return their mail ballots to election offices, the election officials verify that the envelope has all the required voter information and the ballot is eligible to be counted.”

Voters can contact their local election officials to clarify questions about voting procedures, deadlines and requirements to ensure their vote is counted. “Your vote will 100% not count if you don’t cast it,” Hicks says.

Provisional Ballots

Hicks traces the origin of provisional ballots to the drafting of the Help America Vote Act in 2002. “A great compromise came around because a lot of folks were told in 2000 that they were not eligible to vote, therefore, they had to go on their merry way.” It was a collaborative effort by former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The law “expanded and standardized the use of provisional ballots,” Hicks says. “They are a fail-safe to make sure that voters do not leave the poll place without casting a ballot.”

Why might provisional ballots be needed? If voters show up at the polls but aren’t named on the registration list, they can vote on a provisional ballot, which is set aside until their eligibility can be verified after the polls close. Each state has its own timeline for when provisional ballots are processed. “Our data from our Election Administration and Voting Survey shows that 78.6% of provisional ballots were counted in 2022, whereas 21.3% were rejected,” Hicks says.

Ways to Participate Outside of Voting

Beyond voting, citizens can also get involved in the process by becoming poll workers or poll watchers. “Poll workers are the face of the elections office on Election Day,” guiding voters through the process, Hicks says.

The EAC established National Poll National Poll Worker Recruitment Day in 2020 to encourage poll workers to help sign up to help America vote.

Another way to be involved is by being a poll watcher who observes and monitors election processes (though they cannot interfere with voter privacy or disrupt the flow at polling places). Election observers may represent various entities, including political parties, nonpartisan groups, candidate representatives, international groups, academics and federal and state agencies. The specific rules and regulations governing this practice vary by jurisdiction.

“Be involved in the process; don’t just sit on the sidelines and let others participate in the game,” Hicks says.

Voters With Disabilities

Federal law requires that voters with disabilities be able to vote independently and privately and allows them to seek assistance from election workers at polling places or bring along a trusted person for support. Physical infrastructure, including ramps, curb cuts and accessible voting machines, can help accommodate disabled voters. The EAC provides a federal voting rights card, in Braille, large print and pocket-size, outlining voting rights and assistance options.

Voters With Limited Proficiency in English

Federal law requires over 330 jurisdictions to offer language assistance to voters who are not proficient in English. Voters who require language assistance should contact their local election office, which may be able to provide translation services or advise voters on the rules for bringing a trusted translator to the polls.

Military and Overseas Voters

Federal law mandates that military and overseas voters, along with their families, be granted the opportunity to register and receive ballots electronically, with ballots mailed out no later than 45 days before a federal election. Many states also facilitate voting for military and overseas voters in all elections, not just federal ones. These measures help voters cast their ballots regardless of their location.

This webinar, the third in a series of four, was hosted in partnership with the EAC. The final webinar covers voter confidence and will feature the EAC’s Christy McCormick on Friday, June 14, at 2 p.m. ET. Register here.

Watch the third webinar again.

View the rest of the series.

Camilla Rodriguez Guzman is a policy analyst in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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