The ESSENCE Voter's Guide: Everything You Need To Know Before Heading To The Polls

Photo by ESSENCE
We're here to answer your questions about what you need to know before heading to the polls.

Election Day is just two weeks away, and we want to make sure you're armed with everything you need to rock the vote on November 8.

To answer your questions and bring you up to speed on what you need to know before heading to the polls, we've brought in Color of Change Political Action Committee Director Arisha Hatch, who is currently spearheading the #VotingWhileBlack campaign -- a call to action that aims to reinforce the value of the Black vote across the country and emphasize the importance of showing up to the polls.

#VotingWhileBlack is also a grassroots effort that will focus largely on texting Black voters in battleground states to remind them to vote and provide them with important education, like voter guides and early vote information. To make it easier on Nov. 8, we've gathered some important information for you to know.

Let's get started!

Where To Vote

If you registered to vote before the deadline in your state, you should have received something in the mail letting you know where you can go to vote. If you’re unsure of your polling location, a quick Google search of “Where To Vote” will pinpoint the exact address.

What To Expect When You Get There

Long lines, unexpected changes in your polling location, and stricter-than-anticipated identification requirements are a few things you should anticipate if you’re voting on Election Day. You may want to bring a book, your laptop, or something else to keep busy while you remain patient and wait your turn to vote.

What You’ll Need

Be sure to have the following items with you when you head to the polls to vote: a valid government-issued ID card, two additional forms of identification, a working phone or watch to keep track of time, and a bottle of water.

Be Aware Of Voter Suppression Tactics

Voter suppression tactics are things intended to make it more difficult or more confusing for you to vote, in hopes that you’ll just give up. Be on the look-out for things like last-minute changes in polling locations, extremely long lines, random voter purging, and outright voter intimidation attempts. Be prepared to stand strong in the face of these tactics and ask questions about alternative options should anyone try to turn you away from the polls.

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“There are several steps you can take to fight back,” Hatch says. “This includes confirming your polling site the day before you vote; asking for a provisional ballot if you have a problem with your ID or learn you’ve been purged from the voter roll when you get to your polling site; and calling the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE if you witness or encounter irregularities or intimidation."

What About Work?

Most employers give employees at least a 2-hour window where you can leave work to go and vote. Check with your boss or your HR department to get the specifics as they pertain to the rules for your job or your state.

Take Advantage Of Early Voting

Early voting has already started in some states. If you’d like to beat the Election Day rush or know you likely won’t have time to vote on November 8, find out how you can vote early in your state.

How Long Will It Take?

The total amount of time you spend on voting depends on several factors, but being prepared will cut your time spent in half. Knowing where your polling place is before it’s time to head over and having all of your necessary identification handy are two important things you can do to make the process as quick as possible. Long lines should be expected no matter what time of day you go, so keep in mind that patience will also be imperative as you make your plan.

Voting Hours

Polls will be open as early as 6 a.m. and close as late as 9 p.m. However, many polling locations also close between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., so it’s important to find out before you plan your day. For specific voting hours by state, Google “voting hours” and then select your state from the drop down menu to get details.

Absentee Ballots

If you are registered to vote in one state, but are living in another, you’ll need to send in an absentee ballot to make sure your vote counts. Deadlines for having your absentee ballots in are between November 7 and November 8. For instructions on how to obtain, fill out, and send in an absentee ballot for your state, click here.

Go With A Group

Heading to your polling place with a group will not only help more people get their vote out, it’ll make the time fly by. Whether you go with family, friends, co-workers or whomever, traveling to the polling site with at least one other person isn’t a bad idea at all. This is also a great option if you have to bring any children with you and need someone to stand with them while you go vote.

Know Where The Candidates Stand On Important Issues

Reading in between the lines and searching through millions of news stories to actually find out what the candidates stand for can be tedious. If you need a quick snapshot on where each of the nominees stand on the most prominent issues, click here.

Know The Rules At The Polling Place

Rules for voting locations are generally the same across the board. Things like taking photos, wearing political paraphernalia, or attempting to cause a scene of any kind while on the premises are strictly prohibited. Any of these or other actions that may be prohibited in your state could end up costing you your vote.

Why Your Vote Is Important

“Black voters will make the difference in critical down-ballot races that have a lasting impact on our communities," Hatch says. “We are already seeing the impact of Black communities mobilizing to bring more candidates of color into the justice system to better reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.”

For more information on how you can get involved with the #VotingWhileBlack campaign, visit the official website here.

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