Before you vote, know your rights; A guide to the law of the polling place

Published 10:39 am Monday, November 7, 2016

In a season when there has been so much damaging talk of “rigged” elections, poll watchers and voter suppression, it is more important than ever for Minnesotans to know their rights as they head to the polls.

Fortunately, Minnesota is a state that believes in voting and offers strong protections to those who would exercise their right to do so. Let’s start with the fact that in Minnesota, your employer is required to provide time off for voting. You cannot be forced to use personal time or vacation time. If you make the request, it cannot be refused. Violations can be filed with the county attorney.

If you’re in line by 8 p.m., whether that line is in or outside the polling building, you must be allowed to cast your ballot. You have the right to register on Election Day if you can show required proof of residence in that precinct. The Minnesota secretary of state has a complete list of documents that qualify. If you lack those documents, you may bring a registered voter from your precinct who will vouch for you. You are not required to have photo identification.

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The campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump has called repeatedly for “poll watchers,” self-appointed busybodies who presume to know — often merely by appearance — whether someone should or should not be casting a ballot. Minnesota law does not sanction poll watching, and has strict guidelines about creating a safe zone for voters.

Minnesota law does not authorize poll watchers. If someone decides to “watch,” they must stay at least 100 feet outside of the polling place and cannot approach you within that zone. Neither can those distributing campaign literature.

Be aware that any registered voter can challenge a voter’s eligibility at the polling place, and political parties can appoint one person in each precinct to do the same. But there are strict rules governing such challenges. They must be in writing and based on personal knowledge, not suspicion. Challengers cannot disrupt, make lists, take pictures, go within 6 feet of the ballot counter, or directly speak to the challenged voter. If you believe someone is attempting to intimidate you, notify an election judge at your polling place. Some polling places, such as those in Minneapolis, have hired private security to act as sergeants-at-arms.

If the election judge challenges you, there are rules about that, too. Some election judges aligned with the Minnesota Voters Alliance have signed pledges saying they disagree with state law that requires them to offer ballots to voters who swear to their eligibility under oath. Here’s what you need to know: An election judge may ask a voter appropriate questions based on the challenge. For instance, if there is a question about a prior felony conviction, a voter may be asked whether he or she is still on parole or probation. If the voter says no, the election judge by law must give them a ballot and allow them to vote.

If you wish to file a complaint about how you are treated, election judges must provide you with a complaint form on the spot and log the incident.

Finally, to end on a lighter note, if you feel compelled to document the act of voting for social media purposes (a “selfie”), you may do so — but don’t include the actual marked ballot. Minnesota law prohibits showing a marked ballot to others, and taking a photo or video that includes it could be a violation.

Most importantly, have a safe and happy voting experience.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency