It's Time for States to Step Up and Educate Voters About Their Voting Rights

BOWLING GREEN, OH - OCTOBER 2:  A sign directs people where to vote during early voting at the Wood County Court House Octobe
BOWLING GREEN, OH - OCTOBER 2: A sign directs people where to vote during early voting at the Wood County Court House October 2, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio. Early voting began October 2 in the battleground state of Ohio, five weeks before election day on November 6. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)

The 2012 election is expected to be an exceptionally close race, which means that every American's vote will count. And with only one day until Election Day, voters are beginning to think about what they need to do to vote. Whether it's making sure they are up to speed on who is running for office or finding out where their polling place is, whether and how to vote early, or what documents they need to vote, it's an important time for election officials to educate voters and make sure they have the information they need to have their voices heard.

In recent months, there has been a wave of new laws passed by politicians who are trying to make it harder for some Americans to vote. But the American people have fought back. And thankfully in states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and South Carolina the new voting laws have been struck down or will not be in effect this November.

But all this change is causing confusion for voters across the country. People are asking: "Do I need an ID to vote?" or "Can I still vote early?" The bottom line is that the vast majority of Americans will be able to cast their ballot in the same way they have done for years, bringing the same form of ID with them to the polls. But uncertainty and error can undermine voters' rights.

It is the responsibility of election officials to do everything they can to help voters understand what they need to do -- and don't need to do -- to vote. Some states are already doing their part. Earlier this month, the Virginia State Board of Election sent 4.6 million Virginia voters their voter registration card and an overview of what they need to do to vote. This is the type of guidance all 50 states should be providing.

Unfortunately, not all election officials are taking responsibility to educate voters about voting requirements. In Pennsylvania, there are reports of people waiting hours in line to get the identification they mistakenly think is required to vote. Even though the court struck down the state's strict ID law, many Pennsylvanians still think they need to get an ID. Election officials in Ohio and Arizona have provided incorrect information to large numbers of voters, telling them the wrong date for Election Day and the wrong location to vote.

Add to that the deceptive tactics we've recently seen in swing states designed to mislead some voters. In Virginia and Florida, phone calls falsely told voters that they could vote by phone. In Ohio and Wisconsin, billboards in low-income and African-American neighborhoods sought to intimidate and discourage voters by describing the penalties for voter fraud. And letters sent to citizens across the country falsely claimed that they needed to verify their citizenship before voting.

Federal and state courts have stood up for voters and ruled against new restrictive voting laws. Whether it's new voter ID requirements or limiting early voting or voter registration, judges are telling politicians that it is wrong to limit Americans voices on Election Day. But that isn't enough.

All eligible voters should have their say in the future of our nation. By voting, they can participate in their community and choose the candidates they think are best prepared to lead. But our voting system must remain free, fair, and accessible for all eligible Americans.

With only a day left before Election Day, states need to step up and educate voters about their voting laws. Every voter deserves clear information about what they need to do to vote, and this responsibility lies with local election officials. Our democracy depends on it.

Wendy Weiser is Director, Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and Penda D. Hair is co-director, Advancement Project