Some Facts to Know Before You Go to Vote

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

When is Election Day?

It's Tuesday, Nov. 4. Polls will be open in Virginia from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. In Maryland and the District, they will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

How do I find my polling place and verify that I am registered to vote?

In Virginia, visit

In Maryland, visit

In the District, visit

Am I required to bring identification to the polling place?

In Virginia, yes. Voters are required to present identification. Acceptable forms of ID include a Virginia voter registration card, driver's license, Social Security card or an ID issued by the military, federal government or employer. Federal law requires first-time voters who registered by mail and did not include a copy of an ID with their registration application to present any one of the following forms of ID: a current valid photo ID or a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check bearing the person's name and address or another current government document with name and address, such as a voter's card.

In Maryland, generally no -- but it is probably a good idea to bring some. Although most voters do not have to show a registration card or their driver's license, some first-time voters and others who did not provide certain information on their voter registration application will be required to show ID. Voters are required only to provide their legal name when they check in to vote, and their legal name does not necessarily have to be their full legal name, either. For example, you are not required to use your middle name on your voting registration application.

In the District, generally no. According to federal law, the only people required to show ID are first-time voters who registered by mail and did not include an ID with their registration.

Can I wear campaign buttons or T-shirts into the polling place?

In Virginia, no. Seeking to clarify the commonwealth's code on exhibiting campaign material within 40 feet of the polls, the Virginia State Board of Elections on Oct. 14 approved a policy that prohibits people from displaying "any material, object, item, advertisement, or piece of apparel which has the purpose of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or issue."

In Maryland, yes. Voters may wear campaign buttons, T-shirts or stickers into the polling place while marking their ballots -- but they may not linger. Election judges, challengers, watchers and others stationed inside the polling place or within 100 feet of the polling place may not wear or display such materials.

In the District, no. Municipal regulations forbid political activity within 50 feet of a polling place, and this is construed as wearing buttons or T-shirts.

What do I do if I'm told I'm an "inactive voter"?

In Virginia, if voting records suggest that you are inactive, you could be challenged and asked to produce a form of identification that can confirm you are still living at the residence you registered with. But you should have ID anyway. Voters can go to the Virginia Board of Elections Web site to check their registration status, their polling place, get directions to the polling place, check the status of their absentee ballots and obtain other information. (

In Maryland, challenged voters must fill out an affirmation that they are still residing at the address listed in voter records. This reactivates the voters and allows them to vote. If the voter has moved, the person can vote only by provisional ballot.

In the District, inactive voters are not on the list kept at the polls, spokesman Dan Murphy said. People who are inactive voters would cast a provisional ballot, which in the District is known as a "special ballot."

What's a provisional ballot, and how is it counted?

In Virginia, provisional ballots allow a person to vote when a voter believes that he or she is registered in the precinct but the registration cannot be confirmed. They are also used when normal voting hours are extended by court order. Provisional ballots are paper ballots and are not counted on Election Day. The Electoral Board will meet the next day to determine whether each provisional vote will be counted. To obtain a provisional ballot, voters must fill out and sign an application.

In Maryland, provisional ballots are safeguards to ensure that people who say they are registered and eligible to vote will be allowed to do so.

However, the ballots will be counted only after the local election board has reviewed the provisional ballot application and determined that the person is a registered voter and is also casting a provisional ballot in the election district or ward of the person's residence.

In the District, the provisional ballot, or "special ballot," is one that is cast by a voter whose registration cannot be confirmed at the polling place. Within seven days of the election, the Election Board will determine whether the vote can be verified and counted.

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