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“Can I wear my Obama T shirt?” Polling place FAQs

on October 20, 2008


Voting is the basic building block of our democracy, but Election Day presents its own confusions.  Here are commonly asked questions in anticipation of November 4.  If you have other questions, please submit them as a comment and we’ll try to get them answered for you.“I got to my polling place and no one’s there!  What’s up with that?”

It happens every election season, according to Dave Macdonald, the registrar of voters for Alameda County. Poll workers may be stuck in traffic or sidelined with an emergency – or just decide not to show up.  If there’s no one at your polling place, call the registrar of voter’s office at  (510) 267-8683.  There are poll workers on standby ready to fill in if need be.

“Can I wear a t-shirt supporting a candidate to the polls?”

Yes, but bring a jacket to cover it up.  The California Secretary of State has said wearing campaign shirts, buttons or other types of gear is “passive electioneering.”  Electioneering–promoting a candidate or a cause–is not supposed to occur within 100 feet of a polling place.  But Dave Macdonald says no one will be turned away from the polls for wearing an Obama t-shirt or a McCain button.  If the item can be easily removed or covered, you may be asked to do so.  If the item cannot be removed, you will still be allowed to vote.

“I requested an absentee ballot, but now I want to go to the polls.  Is that allowed?”

Yes, it is.  In California, some people who have obtained absentee ballots in advance decide at the last minute to come to the polls on election day.   You may hand in your filled-out absentee ballot right at your polling place.  Or you may, in the formal terminology, “surrender” your blank absentee ballot and cast a vote in person instead.  In either case, be sure to bring the absentee ballot with you to the polling place to prove you haven’t voted twice.  If you forget your ballot, you’ll most likely be offered a provisional ballot, which will be researched after Election Day to verify that the vote hasn’t been cast twice.  Voting twice is a criminal offense!

“I don’t trust those electronic voter machines.  What should I do?”

Not to worry, Oakland voter.  Alameda County uses paper ballots almost exclusively.  There are touch-screen voting machines, but those are mostly used by voters with disabilities.  “We are low-tech in the voting process,” says Dave Macdonald.

“OK, but I just need some basic information!”

Fair enough.   Election Day is Tuesday, November 4.  Polls will be open from 7 am until 8 pm.  Make sure you go to the polling place where you are registered to vote.  If you’re not sure where that is, look it up here.

“I can’t vote on Nov. 4.  Can I vote early?”

Yes, you can.  Early voting is currently going on at the Registrar of Voters office in Oakland: 1225 Fallon Street, Room G-1.  Early voting is happening now and will continue through Nov. 3.   The Registrar of Voters office is open for early voting from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm on weekdays and from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm on weekends.

“Something just doesn’t seem right at my polling place.  What should I do?”

It never hurts to ask.  There will always be a team leader at the polling place where you can voice your concerns.  You can also call Election Protection’s hotline (866) OUR-VOTE.   The nonpartisan group will be staffing its hotline with attorneys who can answer questions or register complaints.


  1. Lydia on November 2, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Great. We should all be linking to this….with numbers for SF as well, lc

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