An insider’s guide to voting

Avoid the rush — vote early: With so much public interest in the upcoming election, voting activists worry that long lines at polling places — not to mention fears about terrorism, however well founded — might discourage some people from voting on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 2). Accordingly, these poll watchers are advising folks to cast their ballots early, which any registered North Carolina voter can do simply by filling out an absentee ballot — no excuse needed. Once you’ve registered, you can vote early in either of the following two ways:

In person: From Thursday, Oct. 14 through Saturday, Oct. 30 (until 1 p.m.), drop by one of your county’s “One-Stop” Voting Sites, fill out an application, and cast your ballot on the spot. (In Buncombe County, these sites include most public libraries.)

By mail: By Tuesday, Oct. 26, send your county board of elections a written request for an absentee ballot (by mail, fax or e-mail; a near relative can do it for you). If you don’t want to write the request yourself, you can download a request form on the Web site of either the state or your local county board of elections. You’ll be sent a ballot, which you must fill out and return by Monday, Nov. 1.

Ex-felons can vote: If you’ve completed your sentence for the felony conviction (including all custody, parole or probation), or have been fully pardoned, your voting rights have been restored. Simply register to vote like anyone else. (If you were registered before your conviction, you must re-register now. The state branch of the ACLU notes on its Web site that “ex-felons … should not have to prove that they are not in prison, on parole or probation, but you should know that a ‘false or fraudulent registration’ is a crime and can subject you to a fine and/or imprisonment.”

Misdemeanants don’t lose their voting rights and can vote absentee while serving their sentence (for more information, go to: www.democracy-nc.org/nc/felonreenfranchisement/felonsandmisdemeanants.html).

Who else should register or re-register? You qualify if you are a U.S. citizen residing here at least 30 days before the election and will be 18 or older by Election Day. If you’ve moved or changed your name since the last time you registered, or if you want to change your party affiliation, you must register again. The registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 8. If you can’t find a registration form at one of the many area stores, post offices and libraries that are stocking them, you can request one from your county board of elections (see below). Or go to www.BeAVoter.org, where you can fill out a registration form online and have it mailed to you. Then you simply sign it and send it in to your county board.

Not sure if you’re registered? Or if your current registration information is accurate? Or where you go to vote? Don’t keep checking your mailbox for the official mailed notification, which may be delayed because of this year’s record-high volume. And be wary of callers who falsely insist you’re not registered — this may be a political dirty trick to discourage you from voting. On the Web sites of the State Board of Elections and many county boards of elections, you need only type in your name and date of birth to get these questions answered instantly; or you can check with your county board by phone (see below).

Want to help register others? You can contact George Handy at george@georgehandy.com. If you want to go it alone, all you need is a stack of registration forms and enough basic knowledge to answer people’s questions. (A pen and clipboard are a big help, too.) You can get forms from your county board of elections, or in larger quantities from the State Board of Elections (see below). Spread The Vote (at www.spreadthevote.org) offers more tips on how to be a grassroots “voter registrar” — including how to get your friends around the nation to register.

For more information:

North Carolina State Board of Elections: (919) 733-7173; (Web site: www.app.sboe.state.nc.us).

Your county board of elections: Find complete contact information, including Web and street addresses, at www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/about/directors.asp or through www.spreadthevote.org.

Or call during business hours (all are in the 828 area code): Buncombe, 250-4200; Haywood, 452-6633; Henderson, 697-4970; Jackson, 586-7538; Madison, 649-3731; Mitchell, 688-3101; Polk, 894-8181, Transylvania, 884-3114.

Voter’s Self-Defense Manual offers unbiased, factual information on state and national candidates free at www.vote-smart.org.

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