Section 1:
Ensuring and Protecting the Rights of Every Voter



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Poll worker training should include an overview of the mission and role of the poll worker, which is to help every registered voter cast a ballot and ensure each ballot is safely secured until it can be counted. This requires the poll worker to provide a positive voting experience and ensure the rights of everyone seeking to vote are protected. Poll workers should be trained to approach their task with a customer service mentality to make each voter's experience as positive as possible. To fulfill that role, poll workers should be familiar with the rights of voters, be trained in cultural sensitivity, know how and when to assist voters with disabilities, know how and when to assist voters with specific needs, and know their responsibilities and the limits to their authority. These four areas of knowledge are discussed independently below, but are components that should be integrated in the overall requirement to ensure the rights of voters are protected, respected, and valued.

  1. Poll Workers Should Know the Rights of Voters
  2. All poll worker training should include a review of the rights of voters, with special emphasis placed on the rights discussed below.

    1. General Rights
    2. Rights to Cast a Ballot

      • Every validly registered voter has a right to cast a ballot. A validly registered voter is a United States citizen who is a resident of California, is at least 18 years old, is not in prison or on parole for conviction of a felony, is not judged by a court to be mentally incompetent, and who is registered to vote at his or her current residence address. (California Elections Code § 2300(a)(1))
      • At all elections, a voter claiming to be properly registered, but whose valid registration cannot be established by examining the voter index for the precinct or the records on file with the county elections official, shall be entitled to vote a provisional ballot. (§ 14310)
      • A voter has the right to cast a secret ballot free from intimidation. Poll workers should be trained to watch for and address any form of intimidation, which includes electioneering activities (see Section 3 of these standards). Poll workers should also provide voters with disabilities, or any voter requiring assistance, the same opportunity for privacy when marking their ballots as they provide to all other voters. (§§ 2300(a)(4), 18540; California Constitution, art. II, § 7)
      • Poll workers must be trained about the right of voters to cast a ballot if they are in line at the polling place when the polls close at 8:00 p.m. Voters who are in line at the polling place at the time polls close are entitled to vote and must be allowed to exercise that right. (§§ 2300(a)(3), 14401, 14402)

      Rights of Voters Who are Required to Provide Identification

      • Under federal law, first-time voters who registered by mail may be required to show identification to vote. The voter index should clearly identify who should be asked to provide identification. (Section 303 of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA); United States Code, Title 42, § 15483(b))
      • Poll workers may only ask a voter to provide identification if the voter index explicitly states identification is required because the voter is a new voter who mailed in a voter registration form without identification. When asking for identification, the poll workers should know which forms of identification are acceptable and that a photo identification is not required, but is simply one of several acceptable forms of identification. Poll workers should also be instructed that a photo identification does not have to contain the voter's address or be issued by a government agency. Poll workers should be provided with a list of examples of acceptable forms of identification as listed in Section 20107 of the California Code of Regulations (CA. Admin. Code § 20107).
      • Poll workers should explain to voters why they, and not all voters, are being asked to show identification.
      • Poll workers should clearly explain that if a voter who is required to provide identification does not have any acceptable form of identification or does not wish to provide identification, the voter is entitled to cast a provisional ballot and should be politely offered one. (CA. Admin. Code § 20107)

      Rights of Voters Who Decline to State a Political Party Affiliation or Register with a Nonqualified Political Party

      • Poll workers should have a thorough understanding of the rights and options of voters who are not registered with a qualified political party but are registered as decline-to-state (DTS) voters or are registered with nonqualified political parties. For the purposes of this section, any reference to DTS voters includes both those voters who have declined to state a political party affiliation and those who are registered with nonqualified political parties.
      • During a primary election that includes at least one partisan public office on the ballot, there should be a nonpartisan ballot and a separate ballot for each qualified political party. It is important for trainers to clearly distinguish between ballots for qualified political parties and nonpartisan ballots. (§ 13102(a))
      • A political party may adopt a party rule that allows a person who is registered as a DTS voter to vote the ballot of that political party in the partisan primary election. (§ 13102(c))
      • If a voter is registered as a DTS voter, they shall be given a nonpartisan ballot. However, this voter is entitled to vote the ballot of a political party that has authorized DTS voters to vote the ballot of that political party. (§ 13102(b))
      • County elections officials should train poll workers how to use and distribute DTS voter information materials including, but not limited to, signs, posters, and written information, to inform these voters that they may request a ballot of a political party that has authorized a DTS voter to "crossover" to vote the ballot of that political party for a particular election. The poll worker should provide information to the DTS voter in a way that avoids any advocacy towards a particular party's ballot.
      • County elections officials should train poll workers how to properly record which political party's ballot was requested or whether a nonpartisan ballot was requested by each DTS voter. (§ 13102(d))
      • Prior to each primary election, poll workers should be reminded that the ballot options available for voters who are not registered with a political party can change with each election, so they should rely only on the most current information.

      Right to a Provisional Ballot

      • If a voter requests a provisional ballot, or believes they are registered to vote despite not being listed on the voter index, the voter may cast a provisional ballot and must be told how to find out if the ballot was ultimately counted, and if not, why not. In poll worker training, emphasis should be placed on checking supplemental indexes to ensure voters are not being unnecessarily required to cast provisional ballots. It is ultimately the duty of the county elections official, not an individual poll worker, to determine whether a provisional ballot is eligible to be counted. (§§ 2300(a)(2), 14310, 14312)
      • A voter who is listed as a vote-by-mail voter, but who does not bring the vote-by-mail ballot to the polls on Election Day, has a right to cast a provisional ballot. (§ 3016)

      Right to Replace a Spoiled Ballot

      • Poll workers should be aware that a voter has the right to receive a new ballot if, prior to casting a ballot, a voter makes a mistake marking votes. A vote-by-mail voter may also request and receive a new ballot if the voter surrenders the blank or spoiled vote-by-mail ballot to an elections official before the polls close on Election Day. However, a voter can only receive two replacement ballots. Poll workers should alert a voter who spoils their initial ballot that they are only entitled to two more replacements and should exercise caution when casting a replacement ballot. (§§ 2300(a)(5), 14288)

      Right to Instruction on the Use of Voting Equipment

      • A voter has the right to receive instruction on how to cast a ballot using the voting equipment in the polling place. Poll workers should be trained that any person who asks to vote on a direct electronic recording (DRE) or any other voting machine is entitled to do so. No voter is required to prove a disability or justify the request to use any machine in the polling place to cast a ballot. Poll workers should be reminded that not all disabilities are visible. Poll workers should be adequately trained to use all equipment and be available to help voters understand how to use it properly. Furthermore, poll workers should understand the proper procedures and tools available for demonstrating the voting system, including the use of specially marked demonstration ballots. Each voter who uses a paper ballot should be instructed how to fold the ballot or place it in a secrecy sleeve or folder so the voter's selections are not visible. (§§ 14272, 14275, 14292)

      Election Day Posting Requirements

      • Poll workers should be informed what materials are to be posted at the polls on Election Day and where and how each item should be posted. This includes flags (and how to properly hang them and ensure they are easily visible to guide voters to the polling place), Voter Bill of Rights posters (which the law requires to be "conspicuously posted both inside and outside every polling place"), updated indexes, election date and polling place hours, sample ballots for all precincts at the polling place in all required languages, instructions on how to cast a provisional ballot, instructions for mail-in registrants and first-time voters, and information on federal and state laws regarding fraud and misrepresentation (e.g., a sign warning against tampering with voting equipment). (§§ 2300(d)(2), 14105, 14105.3, 14200-14202, 18564)

      Materials in the Voting Booth

      • State and federal law do not prohibit voters from bringing the Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide, a sample ballot, a copy of the Voter Bill of Rights, or other similar explanatory materials into the voting booth. However, the law does preclude voters from bringing electioneering materials (see Section 3, Electioneering) into the voting booth or within 100 feet of the polling place. (§ 18370)

      Right to Report Fraud or Illegal Activity

      • Voters have the right to report any illegal or fraudulent activity at or near the polls to a local elections official or to the Secretary of State's office. The Secretary of State's office can be reached at (800) 345-VOTE (8683). If a poll worker is asked how to report illegal or fraudulent activity, the poll worker should provide the voter with that information. (§ 2300(a)(10))
      • A poll worker should inform a voter they can file a written complaint regarding any alleged violation of federal or state election laws. For questions related to HAVA complaints, the voter should be directed to the Secretary of State's office for assistance. The Secretary of State's office may be reached at (916) 657-2166 or elections@sos.ca.gov. (United States Code, Title 42, § 15512(a)(2)(C))
    3. Other Rights
    4. Voters are entitled to additional rights, depending on the circumstances. Poll workers should be accommodating and flexible to ensure these rights are protected as well.

      Rights of All Voters to Receive Assistance at Polls

      • Voters who, for any reason, need or want assistance to vote have the right to receive help to mark a ballot. A voter can bring one or two people into the voting booth, or the voter may request assistance from a poll worker. Poll workers should be trained in what (and what not) to do if asked to assist. For example, it is a violation of state and federal law to disclose how a person votes. (§§ 2300, 14282-14283)

      Rights of Voters with Disabilities

      • Voters with disabilities have the right to vote privately and independently, the right to have a voting station reasonably modified, the right to have barriers removed from the voting process, and the right to receive additional aids and services. At least one accessible voting unit must be available in each polling place where an election is being conducted. (HAVA § 301(a)(3)(B); § 19227(b))
      • Voters with disabilities have the right to an accessible polling place. Poll workers need to be trained on how to use every voting machine that is offered in the polling place and on procedures for curbside voting if the voter is unable to enter the polling place. A list of voters who have requested assistance must be maintained and returned to the elections official. (§§ 12280, 14282, 14283)
      • Under federal anti-discrimination laws, poll workers must permit a service animal to accompany a voter with a disability (e.g., a guide dog for a visually impaired person). Poll workers should walk on the side of the voter that is on the opposite side of the service animal. They should not pet or engage a service animal without permission from the owner. A service animal can be any trained domestic animal for the purpose of assisting the voter. Service dogs can be any breed or size. (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28, §§ 35.130(b)(7), 36.014)
      • A person with a disability who is unable to write may use a signature stamp (which must be approved by the county elections official prior to Election Day), or authorize another person to use the stamp, on any elections-related document that requires a signature (including a vote-by-mail ballot envelope). A signature stamp on a vote-by-mail envelope is treated in the same manner as a written signature. (§ 354.5)
      • All eligible citizens have the right to register to vote unless a court has determined them to be incompetent or they are otherwise ineligible because they are on parole for conviction of a felony. It is not up to poll workers to determine a person's registration qualification or competence to vote. Sometimes poll workers, upon encountering a voter who is disabled, may question the person's competence to vote. Poll workers should be trained to provide the same respectful and courteous level of service to a voter with a disability as they would to any other voter. No voter who is on the voter index is required to show any identification unless they are a first-time voter who registered to vote by mail and are so noted in the index, or to prove their competence to receive or cast a ballot. Poll workers should be reminded that if a voter's name is not on the voter index, they are still entitled to cast a provisional ballot. (§§ 2000, 2100; California Constitution, art. II, § 2; HAVA § 303(a)(5); 2 CA. Admin. Code 21017)
      • Voters with disabilities should not be asked or permitted to fill out their ballots at the table where poll workers are checking in voters, even if the voters have requested assistance in filling out their ballots, because the secrecy of the ballot may be compromised. A separate table or voting booth compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be provided nearby.
      • See Section C. Poll Workers Should Be Trained in How and When to Assist Voters with Disabilities for additional information on assisting voters with disabilities.

      Rights of Voters with Limited English Proficiency

      • The federal Voting Rights Act provides that in some precincts, ballots and election materials must be printed and provided in other languages spoken by voters. Poll workers should be appropriately trained to offer alternate-language ballots, including bringing to the voter’s attention the availability of alternate-language materials. Poll workers should not make any comments regarding voters who ask to use alternative language materials. The county elections official may want to provide poll workers with written materials explaining how to appropriately offer alternate-language ballots and bring the voter’s attention to the availability of alternate-language materials. (§ 12303)
      • Voters who need or want assistance to vote have the right to receive help in casting a ballot. A voter who is not proficient in English can bring one or two people into the voting booth, or the voter may request assistance from a bilingual poll worker. Poll workers should be trained in how best to communicate with voters who do not speak English or voters who have limited English proficiency. (§§ 2300, 12303)
      • Poll workers should also be instructed to respect people from backgrounds different from their own, including those who do not speak English fluently. Poll workers should be reminded that all voters must be treated with the utmost respect and courtesy.
      • Voters will generally understand if poll workers are busy, but no voter should have to tolerate rudeness or disrespect, particularly if the inappropriate treatment is aimed at them because of a disability or limited English skills. Voters needing language assistance should not be asked to step aside while other voters are serviced first; all voters should be processed in the order in which they appear to vote.

      Rights of Voters Accompanied by Children

      • A voter who is accompanied by children below the age of 18 may take the children into the voting booth. (§ 14222)

      Rights of Vote-by-Mail Voters

      • Every voter has a right to vote by mail and to register as a permanent vote-by-mail voter. (§§ 3001, 3003)
      • To be counted, a vote-by-mail ballot must be received by the county elections office that issued it or delivered to any polling place in that county by the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. The voter or a designated third party may deliver the ballot. Vote-by-mail ballots received after the polls close will not be counted. (§§ 3017(a), 3018, 3020)
      • A voter listed as a vote-by-mail voter who wants to vote at the polling place may surrender their vote-by-mail ballot in exchange for a regular ballot. A voter who does not bring their vote-by-mail ballot has a right to vote using a provisional ballot. (§§ 3015, 3016)

      Rights of Poll Watchers

      • Only poll workers and voters engaged in voting may be within the voting booth area when the polls are open. Other people may be in the polling place observing the process as long as they do not interfere with any voter’s right to cast a secret ballot or a poll worker’s ability to work. Poll workers should be taught how to treat poll watchers, as well as what poll watchers are and are not allowed to do. (§ 14221)
      • Poll workers should be made aware that people have the right to observe the election process, even if they are not voting. Observers may be at the polls before they open to the public, during polling hours, and after the polls close. Observers have the right to ask poll workers questions about elections procedures and to receive an answer or be directed to the appropriate official for an answer. However, if persistent questioning disrupts the poll workers’ duties, the poll workers can stop responding and direct the observers to the county elections office for further answers. (§ 2300(a)(9))
      • Frequently, people visit polling places on Election Day to check the voter index. These may be people working for campaigns who want to determine which voters have cast their ballots. Poll workers should be provided with instructions on how best to interact with these people. Poll workers should also be trained how to update the voter indexes and post such information in an accessible location, which is required by law to be completed each hour, up to and including 6:00 p.m. (§ 14294)

      Rights of News Media and Pollsters

      • Members of the news media and opinion-polling researchers are required to abide by different rules than poll watchers. Clearly identified members of the news media may speak to voters leaving the polling place as long as they do not interrupt voting and are 25 feet from the polling place entrance. However, no voter may be photographed, videotaped, or filmed entering or exiting a polling place, or filmed inside the polling place, without their permission. Members of the media should contact the county elections official before the election to prevent any problems or confusion on Election Day. (§ 18541)
  3. Poll Workers Should Be Trained in Cultural Sensitivity
  4. Given the great diversity of California’s population, poll workers should be instructed to treat voters of all backgrounds with equal respect. Poll workers should be trained on cultural sensitivity – the ability to recognize and respond to cultural concerns and sensitivities of various groups. Poll workers should be made aware of relevant differences between cultures and how the actions of a poll worker may be viewed differently than intended.

  5. Poll Workers Should Be Trained in How and When to Assist Voters with Disabilities
  6. In addition to understanding how to respectfully treat people from different cultures, poll workers should be trained to assist voters with disabilities. Poll workers should understand that all voters have the right to vote privately and independently. It is not up to a poll worker to determine a person's qualification to register or to vote. Poll workers should be trained to provide the utmost respectful and courteous level of service to every voter. Voters with disabilities, like every other voter, must be afforded the ability to cast their ballots in private.

  7. Poll Workers Should Know Exactly What Responsibilities and Authority They Do and Do Not Have on Election Day
  8. Poll workers are asked to follow and enforce complex rules on Election Day. They are charged with managing a complex operation and are asked to provide customer service to equally inexperienced voters.

    The large number of rules, election laws, and procedures can intimidate or empower poll workers. Either of these reactions can be problematic. Poll workers may allow themselves to be bullied in ways that jeopardize the integrity of an election. For instance, poll workers may issue an official ballot to a voter who demands one instead of the provisional ballot the voter should receive. Alternatively, a poll worker may feel empowered to exercise authority they don't have. For example, the poll worker might refuse to give a provisional ballot to a voter who is entitled to receive one, a decision that will disenfranchise that voter.

    Given differences in human character, these problems cannot be eliminated. However, elections officials can reduce the potential that such situations will arise through effective poll worker training and education that emphasizes the mission of the poll worker, which is to assist every person in voting and to ensure that each ballot is safely secured until it can be counted. After training, poll workers can be coached and reminded on Election Day by roving inspectors who visit polling places throughout the day.

    To ensure poll workers have the necessary tools to handle problems and respond to various situations (e.g., voters whose names cannot be found on the voter index), training should provide poll workers with:

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