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10 Things Black Women Need to Know Before Voting

Take our guide with you to the polls

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So you registered in time, and you’re excited to cast your vote on November 4. You’re all set—right? Well, maybe not. There are a number of last-minute pitfalls that can crop up on Election Day. The Election Assistance Commission—an independent, federal agency dedicated to election administration—is in full hustle mode, informing voters about steps to take now to guarantee that all goes smoothly at the polls. ESSENCE.com quizzed EAC Commissioner Gracia Hillman about what every Black woman should know before she votes. (P.S. Feel free to share with the brothers too.)

1. Make sure you are registered to vote.

Confirm your voter registration by calling your local election office or checking online at www.eac.gov Depending on which state you live in, there may still be time to correct problems. “In some cases, it may be a clerical error that can be fixed,” says Hillman. 

2. Get the exact location of your polling site.

Polling locations change, so just showing up wherever you voted the last time might not work out. “People lose valuable time by showing up at the wrong polling place,” says Hillman. “You can find out where to vote through your local election office’s Web site.”

3. Ignore suspect fliers on your car windshield.

Mysterious fliers and automated phone calls—saying that you can vote on Wednesday, for instance, or warning that you’ll get arrested at the polls for outstanding parking tickets—are already popping up around the country. Simply stated, they’re fake. “The only way to determine what’s real is to get the information from the elections office,” says Hillman. “They won’t leave things on your car windshield or make robo-calls.”

4. It may not be too late—there are ten states where you can still register to vote.

For most of us, the last day for registration has already passed. But ten states—Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota (does not have voter registration at all), Wisconsin, Wyoming and Connecticut (allows unregistered voters to cast a ballot for president only)—offer same-day registration, allowing you to register and vote right at your polling location.

5. Don’t leave without voting.

If you registered, but poll workers say your name isn’t on the list, don’t leave. You have the right by law to request a provisional ballot. It’s used when there’s a question about whether a person is registered to vote. “Officials will take a few days after the election to research the problem; then people can follow up to find out if their vote was counted,” says Hillman.

6. It’s probably best to leave your campaign T-shirts and buttons at home.

Laws on campaign paraphernalia vary, but in some states it is illegal to wear anything touting your candidate to the voting booth. Check with your local election office to learn the law in your state. “The polling place is viewed as a safe haven, free from campaigning, for the purpose of casting a vote. These laws mean that officials don’t want to take any chance that somebody coming in will start campaigning,” says Hillman. 

7. Be prepared to show some ID.

Some states require that voters show government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license or U.S. passport before they are allowed to vote. “Even though some may not like the identification requirement, this is not the time to challenge it,” says Hillman. If you don’t have the proper identification, request a provisional ballot; you can present the necessary ID to your election office after Election Day to ensure that your vote will count.

8. If you need help, you’re allowed to bring a friend.

Voters who need assistance at the polls—like the elderly, someone whose first language isn’t English or those with a physical disability, for example— are allowed to bring somebody with them. “People can generally bring the person of their choice,” says Hillman. “If they don’t have anybody, they can ask for assistance from a poll worker. Nobody should ever feel, if they don’t understand how a machine works or how a ballot should be read, that they can’t ask for help.”

9. Sometimes, there can be a rational explanation behind a faulty voter machine.

You’ve likely heard reports of machines “switching” votes to a different candidate during early voting, but the scenario may be less conspiring than it sounds. “The instances where that has happened, the touch screen was very sensitive,” says Hillman, who argues that if you hit the space between two names, the machine can misread your vote. When that happens, the touch screen lets you correct it. If there really is something wrong with the machine, request an emergency paper ballot, available specifically for cases of malfunctioning machines.

10. If you see something, say something.

Speak out about anything fishy at the polls. “If you have any kind of complaint about the voting process, you are entitled to file an administrative complaint, which has to be handled by the election office,” says Hillman.


Need immediate help or further assistance, call Election Protection (866-OUR-VOTE), a voter hotline staffed with lawyers and trained volunteers.