What is a Polling Place?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A polling place or polling precinct is a location which is used for the purpose of voting in an election. Since elections occur infrequently, a structure such as a rental hall or church is often rented for the purpose of serving as a polling place. In many regions, polling places are staffed by volunteers who may be offered a small fee to compensate for their services. Many countries have specific rules about conduct at polling places to ensure that all voters have access to the polls and to protect voting rights and privacy.

Polling places are locations where voting is held during an election.
Polling places are locations where voting is held during an election.

The use of “poll” to describe a collection of votes comes from 1625. Polling places have traditionally been treated with varying degrees of respect, depending on the era and the nation. During some periods in the United States, for example, African-American voters were barred from their local polling places, despite having the right to vote. In other instances, polling places have been dominated by a single political party which has pressured voters into supporting its candidates.

The staff of the polling place hands the voter a ballot, which he or she must mark.
The staff of the polling place hands the voter a ballot, which he or she must mark.

In the United States, as in many nations, political advertising and discussion are not permitted in close vicinity to a polling place. This is designed to reduce the pressure on voters, so that they feel comfortable voting with their consciences. A polling place must also admit all registered voters, regardless of race, creed, class, or political opinion, and it must provide accommodations for disabled voters or voters with special needs.

In a polling place, a number of booths are established so that voters can make their choices in private. The staff of the polling place check to see if the voter is on the rolls for that location, and hands the voter a ballot which he or she must mark. Ballots are collected in a locked container which is taken to voting officials for counting. In regions with electronic voting, voters may vote on machines rather than marking ballots.

The right to vote is protected in many countries, as is the right to vote independently without pressure or interference from third parties. In countries where voting rights have not been fully established, monitors from neutral nations may oversee elections to ensure that polling places are run in a responsible fashion. These monitors also report violations of voting rights such as political pressure, discarded votes, or intimidation.

In most regions of the world, voters must vote at a specific polling place, which ensures that voters do not cast votes in multiple precincts. The location of your polling place can usually be found on your sample ballot, if you have been mailed one. If you have a voter registration card, your polling place may be listed there as well. If you do not know the location of your polling place, call the registrar of voters in your region to find out where it is. If you like to avoid the polls altogether, register for a permanent absentee ballot, which will mailed to you so that you can vote and return the ballot at your leisure.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I always wondered why they didn't turn the gymnasium of a local school into a polling place for a day. Schools are all over the place. Seemed like a logical solution. I figured the school could do without it for 1 day every now and again. And, it would bring the voting process a little closer to the kids to teach them the importance of our right to vote. But, someone finally clued me in! I wasn't thinking. They don't use schools because they don't want unsavory characters on school grounds, even if it is a separate, cordoned off part of the campus. Just because you are allowed to vote doesn't mean we want you on school grounds. So sad we have to consider these sorts of things.


A polling place can also be in a private home. This isn't just something reserved to less populated rural towns. I was surprised to find out that several people I know in large metropolitan cities vote in a someone's house or garage in their neighborhood. I somehow always was assigned a nearby church or hall.

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