Clearing Up Voting Myths, Registration Deadlines And More Election Info

Can you wear an Obama shirt to the polls? Does your vote count? We separate fact from fiction.

Maybe you've been forwarded the e-mail from a friend, or even your mom, that begs you to "please, please, please" not wear any hats, pins or T-shirts hyping Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama when you go to vote November 4, or else risk being turned away by polling officials.

Though Obama pieces of flair and T-shirts have been trendy lately, the warning would also seem to apply to any John McCain gear as well — but is it true?

Yes and no. It is true that in some states, wearing campaign gear is not allowed at the polls (it could be interpreted as "electioneering"), but your vote cannot be taken away. According to urban-myth debunking site, these rules are typically meant to cover overt campaigning, such as plastering posters or banners near polling places, passing out pamphlets or verbally trying to convince voters to choose your candidate.

At most polling places, voters sporting political ware may have to take off their buttons or put a jacket over their T-shirts (in Pennsylvania, you can turn your shirt inside out). But the rules vary by state, and most object to anyone making political statements at the polls while wearing the clothes. This is a very ambiguous issue, so if you really want the details, take a look at this document listing each state's rules and regulations.

Here's the truth about other common voting myths:

Voter Turnout Keeps Going Down Due to Voter Apathy

Fact: This primary season saw record-setting turnout for both major parties across the country, and voter-registration numbers are reaching record proportions from Florida to California. According to The Associated Press, more than 3.5 million new voters joined the rolls between January 1 and March 31. The myth of a decrease in turnout reportedly comes from the fact that surveys of the total turnout for elections typically look at the whole voting-age population, which includes millions of people who aren't eligible to vote, such as non-citizens and convicted felons, whose numbers have increased steadily over the past few decades.

Registering to Vote Makes You More Likely to Get Called for Jury Duty

Fact: Not really. In most states, your name goes into the jury pool when you purchase a house or a car, register with the local DMV or file a state income-tax return. But registering to vote can also get your name in the jury-duty hopper.

Unless I Vote for One of the Presidential Candidates, My Ballot Won't Count

Fact: Not true. You don't have to vote for president if you're not truly committed to one of the candidates, but you should go to the polls to cast ballots for other local and state races. Any ballot with even one filled-in spot will be counted. Not counting a ballot with a skipped or inadvertent vote would be considered forcing a vote, and that's unconstitutional.

My Vote Won't Make a Difference

Fact: Wrong. The old adage is "every vote counts," and in the past two presidential elections, that's been truer than ever. In 2004, President Bush beat Democratic rival Senator John Kerry 51 percent to 48 percent, winning by just more than 3 million votes. The 2000 election was even closer: The final official count in Florida had Bush winning the state by just 537 votes, thus clinching the election.

Someone Can Find Out How I Voted

Fact: The only record of the vote you cast is the number on your ballot, and even the judges in polling places don't see the number when they hand you a ballot. Those judges also don't open the ballot boxes, only bringing them to the elections office for counting. That office doesn't get a list of who voted until after the ballots are counted and locked back in the box. The only thing someone can find out about you is whether you voted, not how you voted.

Students Who Change Their Addresses For Voting Will Be Dropped From Their Parents' Insurance or Lose Financial Aid

Fact: Not true. You can't be dropped for registering to vote. This is typically used as an intimidation tactic to suppress the vote, as recently happened in Virginia, according to the New York Times.

I Won't Be Allowed To Vote If I Don't Have a Photo ID

Fact: Not entirely true. Most states don't have a government-issued ID law, but Georgia and Indiana do. In Ohio, for instance, you have to show some form of ID, but it can be anything from a driver's license or state ID card with your name and address (it doesn't have to be your current address) to a utility bill or paycheck with your name and current address. If you show that ID and are turned away, your rights have been violated.

Any Polling-Place Official Can Challenge My Right to Vote

Fact: Not entirely true. There are challenge statutes that vary from state to state that allow people to challenge the registration of someone they believe is not allowed to vote, said Eric Marshall, the campaign manager for the National Campaign for Fair Elections. "But that person has to have personal knowledge that the person they are challenging is not eligible to vote in that area," Marshall said. "Someone can't stand there and say to everyone that walks in, 'I don't think you can vote here.' "

For the answers to these and many other questions, check out the National Campaign for Fair Elections Web site.

Now you know about some of the myths, but none of that matters if you don't register to vote to begin with.

Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen barnstormed the country last weekend, playing shows in Detroit; Philly; Columbus, Ohio; and Ypsilanti, Michigan, to encourage voters to register by Monday, which is the last day to register in those and 14 other places (including Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas and Mississippi). Some states, such as Alaska, Washington state, Rhode Island and South Carolina, had already closed their registration by then, but voters in a number of states have until later in the month to get themselves registered. You can find out more at

Upcoming Registration Deadlines

October 8: Missouri

October 10: New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma

October 11: Delaware

October 14: Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon

October 15: Massachusetts, West Virginia, Wisconsin (or at polls on Election Day)

October 20: California, Kansas, South Dakota, Washington (must be done in person)

October 21: Connecticut, Maine (or at polls on Election Day)

October 24: Alabama, Iowa (or at polls on Election Day), Nebraska (postmarked by October 17)

October 28: Utah (must be done in person)

October 29: Vermont

(In Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wyoming, you can register at the polls.)

Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace's Presidential Dialogues, and much more.