What You Need To Know Before You Vote At The Polls

Leave your campaign pins (at least the ones relevant to this election cycle) out of polling areas in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Pins like the On Point button, are, of course, permissible. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Leave your campaign pins (at least the ones relevant to this election cycle) out of polling areas in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Pins like the On Point button, are, of course, permissible. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Polls in Massachusetts open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day. Our neighbors in New Hampshire will find that polling hours vary for them, with the earliest polling places opening at 6 a.m. and closing in some places by 7 p.m. (and Granite Staters who failed to register can still do so on Tuesday).

Before you head out to perform your civic duty, here are a few other things you should know about what's permissible at the polls:

What Not To Wear

Leave your campaign T-shirts, hats and pins at home. Wearing anything into the poll that can be considered supportive of one candidate over another, or favoring or opposing a ballot question, can be seen as a form of electioneering. That's basically the act of promoting or denouncing a candidate or ballot measure.

In order to keep the voting process free from intimidation — thus allowing individuals to cast their ballot in a campaign-free zone — most states have laws designating the distance from a polling place in which people are allowed to hoist a campaign sign or sport specific slogans.

Here's Where You Can Let Your Allegiance Be Known

States set their own physical boundaries when it comes to exactly where electioneering is allowed near a polling place. In Massachusetts, that zone extends 150 feet from the entrance of a polling place. There are often ropes or some other line marking the distance. So, in the Bay State, as long as you're standing 150 feet or farther from the polling place, then you can legally wave campaign signs and wear T-shirts.

Who Can Observe The Voting Process

Every state has different policies when it comes to who can observe the voting process inside a polling place. In both Massachusetts and in neighboring New Hampshire, the rules are quite broad when compared to other places across the country.

There are four categories of observers permitted inside Massachusetts and New Hampshire polling places, so long as they abide by the electioneering rules outlined above.

Partisan citizen observers: These observers are aligned with a specific candidate or party and are often in place to look out for the best interest of their campaign.

Nonpartisan citizen observers: Many nonpartisan organizations throughout the country train volunteers to observe the voting process in order to help ensure voting rights are protected.

International nonpartisan observers: International organizations dedicate non-citizen volunteers to monitor an election, studying the process and collecting data while having no vested interest in the outcome.

Academic observers: Professors and scholars representing universities observe elections to study the democratic process.

Where You Can, And Cannot, Bring Your Gun

There are no additional regulations on Election Day regarding the right to carry a firearm, according to David Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police. He said all current laws in effect still apply.

"So, if you cannot carry in the building where you vote on any other day, you cannot carry there on Election Day," Procopio said. "But only because firearms are always prohibited there."

Carrying a firearm is not permitted in school zones, post offices, courthouses or federal buildings in Massachusetts. Most state buildings also have rules regarding gun possession (but nothing statutorily), according to Procopio.

Don't be surprised, however, if you see guns at polling places in New Hampshire. The state's open carry law permits gun owners to bring firearms inside most polling places without special permission. But the state does subscribe to similar electioneering rules as Massachusetts, which means you still need to leave the Trump hats and Clinton T-shirts at home.


Headshot of Shannon Dooling

Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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