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10 things you need to know before voting in this year’s election

Creative Commons photo

Creative Commons photo

The countdown to Election Day 2016 begins as we are less than three weeks away and just days from early voting. There are some important things to remember before Nov. 8.
1. Identification. In 2011, Texas was among several states that toughened voter ID laws. This summer, a federal court ruled that the new Texas voter ID law was discriminatory, as it would greatly impact minority votes–citizens who are less likely to have the proposed required identification such as a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate. The state was ordered to soften the law and create an outreach campaign for Texas voters. You still need photo identification, but if a voter does not have it, they must sign an affidavit and present proof of residence, such as a utility bill. Other acceptable forms of ID include: a birth certificate, bank statement, a voter registration certificate, government check or any other government document that includes a voter’s name and address.

2. Polling locations.  In Smith County, voters can choose from numerous polling locations on both early voting days an on Election Day. Check more Smith County election information here. In other counties, confirm you will go to the correct location by checking the precinct on your voter ID card, or contacting your local elections office.

3. Polling times. For early voting in Smith County, the polls are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 24 through Oct. 28; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 29; 1 to 6 p.m. on Oct 30; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 31 through Nov 4. See the five locations and two temporary locations here.

4. Time off work. Make sure you and your employer know the rules when it’s time to go to the polls. The employee is entitled to take paid time off for voting on election days, unless the employee has at least two consecutive hours to vote outside of the voter’s working hours. For example, if the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the employee works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the employer doesn’t have to provide additional time since the employee has two hours in the morning and two in the evening to vote. See the state’s statute on this matter here.

5. Get help if you need it. If you have a disability or special need, voters are entitled to accommodations . This includes people who cannot read or write; have a physical disability that prevents them from reading or marking the ballot; cannot speak English, or communicate only with sign language and want assistance in communicating with election officials. Voters may be assisted by any person the voter chooses who is not an election worker; two election workers on Election Day; or one election worker during early voting.

6. Felony record. In Texas, having a felony on your record doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t vote. Once a person has successfully completed his or her punishment, including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or has been pardoned, then that person is immediately eligible to register to vote. A person who is “finally” convicted may not vote. Deferred adjudication, a conviction on appeal, and mere prosecution, indictment or other criminal procedures leading up to, but not yet resulting in the final conviction, are not final felony convictions.

7. Guns. No, you cannot bring your gun to a polling place, even with a concealed or open carry license (unless you’re a peace officer).

8. Complaints. Report a possible voting rights abuse to the Secretary of State at 1-800-252-8683 or to your local election official.

9. Updates on results. Every news outlet, including Liberate, will be updating the results that night. Judging by this election cycle, it might be a long night.

10. Self care. This has been an unusual election season with enough insults, scandals, violence, and vulgar soundbites to create new Internet memes for the next few years. With that being said, remember not to soak in all of the negativity. Take a break from politics and submerge yourself in something with positive energy, such as exercise, reading a book (not political), or a night out with friends.

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