Image: Absentee ballots
Rogelio V. Solis  /  AP file
Absentee ballots are stacked up at the Hinds County Circuit Court office, in Jackson, Miss. If you haven't received your absentee ballot yet, the best course of action is to check with your local election office.
By Alan Boyle Science editor
msnbc.com
updated 10/31/2008 3:28:35 PM ET 2008-10-31T19:28:35

Where's my absentee ballot? Why did they take my name off the voter registration rolls? What happened to the signup card I filled out weeks ago? With just one full business day left before Election Day, last-minute questions like these are flooding in to election offices and voter advocacy groups.

"Election officials across the country have been working 24/7" over the past couple of weeks to clear up these types of questions, said Kay Stimson, communication director for the National Association of Secretaries of State.

It's traditional for voter angst to build to a crescendo at this stage of the game, Stimson said. "All the hotlines that are out there point to this as the No. 1 question: Am I registered to vote?" she noted.

This year, the angst is particularly intense because registration levels have been so high, and because get-out-the-vote efforts are bringing in so many first-time voters. And there's no universal cure for voter angst, because election procedures vary so much from state to state.

There is a general prescription, however:

  • Check the status of your registration, either by consulting online Web sites like "Can I Vote?" or by contacting your local election office. Online databases usually require you to provide your birthdate, so there's a chance your name won't show up if that date was typed in wrong when you registered.

  • If your registration record is wrong or missing, resolve the matter with your election officials ... preferably on Monday rather than Tuesday. "Call them immediately, prior to Election Day," Stimson stressed. (The "Can I Vote?" site, operated by Stimson's association, links to state election sites that can point you in the right direction.)

  • If you can't resolve registration discrepancies by Election Day, don't sit this one out. Go to your polling place, and if necessary, fill out a provisional ballot. Bring the best evidence of ID and residential address you can muster, such as drivers license, other ID cards or even utility bills with your name and address.

  • Answer all the questions on your provisional ballot form and the accompanying documents. Make sure you sign where you're supposed to sign. And make sure you cast your provisional ballot at the right polling place. In many states, if you vote at the wrong place, the ballot will almost certainly be thrown out.

  • If you've moved and have not been able to change your registration address before Election Day, check with your election office for advice on what to do and where to go.

  • Find out from pollworkers how you can learn whether your provisional ballot has been counted after the election. If you haven't brought acceptable ID to the polling place, you may be required to bring it in to a central election office after Election Day.

Slideshow: Early voting Absentee or mail-in ballots pose special problems with the election so close. In some states, such as California, the deadline for requesting absentee ballots passed just this week, and that means the last of the ballots are just now being sent out.

California is dealing with a particularly huge flood of absentees: Roughly a third of the state's voters are expected to fill in a pre-Election Day ballot, thanks to a years-long effort to promote the system. But the tight schedule is making voters anxious. Los Angeles County elections chief Dean Logan said his office alone has been getting 18,000 phone calls a day.

If you're a Californian, and you receive your mail-in form on Saturday, or Monday, or even Tuesday, you should deliver it by hand to a polling place or to the central election office before the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Logan said. Read all the instructions carefully. Logan said California state law allows a relative or household member to deliver the absentee ballot for you, as long as they sign an affidavit.

If you don't receive your mail-in ballot, cast a provisional ballot at the proper polling place or the central election office. The same advice applies if you've been removed from the registration rolls, or even if election officials say they never received your registration to begin with.

"We want people to go to the polls and cast a ballot, if they believe they are registered voters," Logan said.

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