How Domestic Violence Survivors Can Vote Safely

Voting is a fundamental part of American democracy. For people who can vote, it is an opportunity to create change for themselves and their communities. This happens by voting for or against policies and elected officials who implement changes at the local, state, and federal levels. Voting can be a way to create laws that benefit and support survivors, their families, and the programs that support them. However, due to an abusive partner, domestic violence survivors are often denied access to election information, prevented from registering to vote, and unable to assert their rights through voting preferences. Because of this, survivors must know what voter information is collected, how it is shared or used, and who has access to it so they can vote safely and keep their information private.


A woman thinks about how domestic violence survivors can vote safely
A woman thinks about how domestic violence survivors can vote safely

If you’re unsure of your voter registration status or have questions about voting, visit the National Association of Secretaries of State to learn more. Read below to learn some helpful ways domestic violence survivors can vote safely.

Absentee Ballot

One way that survivors can vote safely is through absentee ballots. This allows someone to cast their vote without voting in person. Absentee voting gives more flexibility to voters, which can be helpful for survivors dealing with extreme stressors. This process helps survivors whose partner monitors or restricts their movement out of the house. It is also beneficial for survivors who have left their abusive partner and are worried they might see them at a polling location.

How you submit an absentee vote varies by state. Most states, however, require you to submit a form through mail or in person at a local election official’s office. Each state has different requirements and deadlines for absentee voting, so be sure to check your state’s rules.

Some states offer vote-by-mail programs instead of absentee voting programs. This program automatically sends ballots to all registered voters before the election. You can always check if your state offers vote-by-mail or not.

By using absentee ballots or vote-by-mail, survivors who are monitored or tracked by their partner can still vote. It also limits the possibility of seeing their abusive partner at a polling location. But what if those programs aren’t available?

Address Confidentiality Programs

One program that safeguards survivors’ confidentiality is the Address Confidentiality Program. This program protects victims of crime from people who want to harm them. Address Confidentiality Programs typically provide survivors with a mail forwarding service and an alternate mailing address to use. This address can be used by public agencies such as driver’s license registries, schools, courts, and more. Once you apply and enter into an Address Confidentiality Program, your alternate mailing address will be connected to your voter registration information. If an abusive partner used the survivor’s voter registration information to find them, the alternative address would appear.

Learn more about Address Confidentiality Programs by visiting the National Association of Secretaries of State summary of Address Confidentiality Programs. You can also use the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s resource to find out the requirements and protections for your state’s program.

Create a Voting Safety Plan

Address Confidentiality Programs are just one part of survivors’ overall safety plan. If a survivor still lives in the same area as their abusive partner, voting could be an opportunity for an abusive partner to cause harm. Each survivor’s safety plan is unique, but the following tips can help them vote safely. Remember, advocates from The Hotline are available 24/7 to help create a voting safety plan specific to your situation.

Join a Friend or Family Member

There are ways survivors can vote safely even if they don’t use an absentee ballot or vote early. One way to stay safe is voting with a family member or friend. While voting, they can keep an eye out for the abusive partner. The other person can also distract or interrupt any abuse that may happen IF the abusive partner is at the polling location. Also, if something unexpected happens, having someone with you for support is helpful.

Whether you vote with someone or not, when you vote also contributes to your safety. If possible, vote at a busy time. Abusive partners don’t want people to see their harmful actions, so they are less likely to be aggressive or abusive with others around. The more people around, the more likely it is that someone will interrupt any abuse that occurs. Voting at a time when your abusive partner is busy can also reduce the likelihood of seeing them at the polls.

Remember, voter intimidation or interference in any form is illegal. If an abusive partner harasses or bothers a survivor, you can notify an election official at the polling location. They may be able to remove the abusive partner from the premises. If an abusive partner is at the same polling place or waiting outside, ask the election official if you can step aside to make a call to a friend or family member who can come pick you up.

Take Advantage of Early Voting

Another way survivors can vote safely is during early voting. Often, early voting is when polling locations are open before election day, so people have more time to vote. Since there are more days when someone can vote, it’s less likely a survivor will see their abusive partner while casting their ballot. There is typically more flexibility in where you can vote during early voting. Because of this, survivors can potentially vote at a location different from or farther away from their abusive partner.

Rules for early in-person voting vary by state. How long the early voting period is, what day it starts and ends, and whether you can vote on the weekend all depend on the state you reside in. Use this guide to see what your state’s early voting looks like.

Public Voter Information

Depending on where you live, your voter registration information may be public once you register. This means that your information could be seen by individuals or groups. These records typically include personal information such as your name, address, and party affiliation. Some states and territories may also collect and make public other information, such as the person’s date of birth.

It is helpful to know that all states allow voter information to be shared with certain organizations. This is most often shared with political parties and elected candidates. However, some states may also share your voter information with law enforcement, government officials, businesses, scholars, journalists, or the public. It may also be accessible to individuals.

In addition to sharing voting records and information with different groups, each state has a process to check your registration status. These checks are often done online by filling out a form with minimal details, like your name and zip code. This information is something an abusive partner already knows, allowing them to find their partner’s personal information. For survivors worried about their safety, these checks are at risk of being discovered. If you’re worried about what information is publicly available, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Access to and Use of Voter Registration Lists Report.

Help is available.

Many survivors are engaged in creating change for themselves and their communities. Voting is a significant way for this to happen. If you are worried about your safety when voting, our advocates are here 24/7 to answer questions and help you create a safety plan. You are not alone.