CLEVELAND – For years, Joycelyn Henry voted at the same neighborhood church, so she was surprised last year when she was told she was in the wrong precinct.
Her name was not on record, and she was told her precinct may have changed, Henry said. She was given a provisional ballot, to be counted later if election officials verified she was registered.
"As far as we understand, my vote was not counted. I felt horrible. It's like there's no justice," she said Monday.
Election officials and advocacy groups expect many voters across the nation to show up at the wrong polling place Nov. 2.
Some voters mistakenly assume they can vote anywhere. Others move, do not update their voter registrations and end up at their old polling place. Occasionally, the precincts move. And sometimes new voters are registered but not yet on the rolls.
The problem could be especially bad this year: Election boards across the nation have been swamped with millions of new voter registrations, and there are widespread fears the voter rolls in some places may not be up to date come Election Day. Also, many of these new voters may not understand how things work.
"You have a lot of first-time voters," said Jocelyn Travis, who is working with People for the American Way (search) and the NAACP (search) to help voters. "Most people don't understand the political process. They just know that they just want to vote."
This year, for the first time, all states are required to give provisional ballots to voters whose names cannot be found on the voter rolls when they show up at the polls.
But courts in several states have disagreed over whether those ballots are valid if the voter is at the wrong precinct. Some have ruled that such votes must be counted as long as the voter is in the right city or county.
This time, Henry, a 54-year-old native of Jamaica, has checked and rechecked with elections officials to make sure she is registered and knows where to vote. She said a postcard from the elections board shows her precinct is the same church.
"I pray it is the right place," Henry said. "My name better be there. Who wants to go through this again? That's not fair."
Provisional ballots are given when voters say they are properly registered but their names are not on the registration rolls. Democrats want all provisional ballots counted as long as they are cast in the correct county; Republicans do not.
The dispute in Ohio ended with a federal appeals court ruling that voters must be in the correct precinct.
Around the state, election boards send voters cards identifying their precincts. This year, some are also hiring telephone operators to direct voters to the right polling place and stationing workers at the polls to do the same thing on Election Day.
Still, they expect mistakes.
"Sometimes, the church or school that we were using can no longer do it," said Dennis Lieberman, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Dayton. "Even when people are notified of that, in our busy world they may not be paying attention."
Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous county, sent its 1 million registered voters a reminder of where to vote, along with instructions for using punch-card voting machines.
"It's in color so maybe people will pay more attention to it," said Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator.
But people will still show up at the wrong place, she said. "I don't know if they throw the card away, or if they forget where to go. It just happens," Maiden said.
Travis said there is another reason some voters could end up at the wrong polls: Some elderly and black voters say someone is calling them and telling them incorrectly that their precincts have changed. Elections officials say such calls are scams and should be reported to authorities.
Travis said she is worried about voters showing up at the wrong precinct just before closing with no time to go to the right place and voters whose names do not show up on the rolls because of a lag in processing new registration cards.
"It's very hard for people to know where to go. Everybody doesn't read the newspaper, everyone doesn't watch TV," she said. "Certainly, you should be able to have your vote cast and counted."