Counter Stories: On knowing your voting rights, helping teach others

New Hampshire voting
In this photo taken November 6, 2012, a young girl looks out from a voting booth as her mother casts her ballot.
Photo by Edward Linsmier | Getty Images 2012

Ask someone to describe a typical voting experience, and the answer will be different depending on the person. That distinct response goes beyond where voting happens — in a school, church or community center — to include who the person is, or who he or she is perceived to be.

In this month's Counter Stories, co-hosts Luz Maria Frias, Anthony Galloway, Hlee Lee, and Tom Weber address a variety of experiences they've either felt or seen while voting or trying to vote.

They also discuss several statutes and resources available to anybody who needs them. As Galloway states, "voting isn't a privilege, it's a right," but it still takes effort, and sometimes help, to understand how to exercise it.

In Chicago in 2012, Frias' mother was turned away at the polls. She noted her mother had recently moved to a new neighborhood but had properly re-registered at the new address.

She was turned away, Frias said, because the judge "said she was not eligible to vote." The election judge asked Frias' mother a series of question, the answers which the judge found unsatisfactory. Fortunately, Frias' mother had resources from within the family to help her navigate the situation and, ultimately, to cast her vote later that day.

Lee's story happened while volunteering to help elderly Hmong people without transportation register to vote. She says she witnessed a man who said that he had just moved to the area attempt to vote and saw the worker turn the man away because he did not have any current mail indicating where here lived.

He was about to simply leave, but Lee intervened and said, correctly, that wasn't true at all. The person could register to vote with a neighbor as a witness. The man received "the wrong information," and because Lee has done a lot of work familiarizing herself with the rules and in her own efforts to help people to vote, she was able to make sure that this person could register. Lee provided a resource for the person she saw being wrongly turned away.

The stories Frias and Lee told have something in common: the individuals were able to vote because they had resources to answer questions and make it happen. Not everyone will be lucky enough to be in the same line as Lee on November 8, but there are resources in place and things to remember to ensure that you are able to vote.

• The nonpartisan www.866ourvote.org — as well as the phone number 866-OUR-VOTE — has state-specific voter information for Minnesota. For instance, it indicates that citizens can register to vote at their polling place on election day.

• "I have to work" isn't an excuse. Everyone in Minnesota gets time off from work to vote, according to the state law that reads:

"Every employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee's polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence. An employer or other person may not directly or indirectly refuse, abridge, or interfere with this right or any other election right of an employee."

• If you forgot that the ballot includes an array of decisions besides the presidential race, you have access to the ballot for your county before the election as long as you have access to the Internet. Go to MNVotes.org, type in your home address, and download a sample ballot. MPR News also has a voting guide.

• Polls close at 8:00 p.m., and you have a right to vote as long as you are in line when the polls close.

In keeping with the theme from the Counter Stories conversation about how different people's experiences are when voting, we'd like to hear about yours. MPR News wants your help in covering what your voting experience (good or bad) is like. Click here to share your story.

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