Things That Matter

Voting 101: Top Tips For First Time Voters Or Those Just A Little Out Of Practice

The election heat is on, and you might be totally new to the whole affair. There are a whole lot of things to figure out if it’s your first time voting, including whether you’re eligible, as well as questions about timing, logistics, candidates, and more. No worries, though, because here are some tips for first-time voters as well as people who may be a little out of practice.

And with the Coronavirus pandemic and Republican attacks on voting rights and access, it’s more important than ever that you vote with as much knowledge as possible.

Below, see everything you need to know about being a first-time voter, from registration to placing an absentee ballot to what items you’ll need to be prepared when you head to your polling place.

Make sure you’re registered to vote!

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The first step in preparing to vote is to make sure that you’ve registered to vote before the cut-off date, which varies from state to state.

If you won’t be in town, you can cast your vote via an absentee ballot, which is often referred to as mail-in voting. (Note: some states will let you vote by mail even if you will be in town.) VOTE411.org has all the information you need to know about how to get registered and request an absentee ballot in your state. Be extra careful to note the deadline, since absentee ballots often have a due date before the actual election, and the United States Postal Service is likely to get overburdened as Election Day gets closer. Check out Teen Vogue‘s explainer on voting by mail if you want to learn more about the pros and cons of going this route.

Learn more about the candidates and referendums.

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Some people may want to vote — but don’t know who to vote for. You can check out voter guides related to your state, as well from organizations that are offering comprehensive information on which candidate is running for which office in your state. Plus, there’s Ballot Ready for learning about the issues candidates stand against or in favor of.

Actually showing up to vote…

Most states will send you a voter card to confirm that you are registered. This piece of mail will likely include your designated polling place. If it doesn’t have that information or you misplaced your card, you can look it up online. Here’s an easy tool that will point you in the right direction. You won’t need to bring your voter card with you, but your state may require a valid photo ID.

Most polling places open between 6 and 9 a.m. and stay open until around 7 to 9 p.m., but double check with yours just to make sure (this will probably be listed online or via your local news media). Show up in the morning if possible to beat the crowds. Many states hold early voting periods in the lead-up to Election Day, which are a great way to avoid long lines and ensure your ballot is counted.

What should you expect at the polling station?

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If you’re curious to know what it is like to be at a polling station, just search for “voting machines” along with your state’s name on Google. This should give you ample material on the equipment at the station and how you’re expected to use it. If you don’t have the time, you can simply ask a poll worker who should help you navigate the station

Can you vote early?

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The option to vote early ends a few days before the Election Day, depending on your state. So head on over here to find out if you can vote early.

Can you leave work or school to vote?

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If you work or need to attend classes, you should tell your management or administration about your plans so you can take time off. Find out your state’s laws about leaving work early to vote.

Can you take a selfie to show off your pride in democracy?

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You may also be tempted to take a selfie with your ballot to share your experience on social media. However, make sure to be careful of your state’s laws when it comes to taking photos at a polling station. According to USA Today, some states strictly forbid taking photos, although many states still have unclear guidelines. If you are unsure of what your state allows, it’s probably a safer bet to not post that selfie.

What should you do if you feel like your rights were violated?

In the event that you suspect your voting rights were violated (for example, if you think your voter registration was removed or you were turned away from a polling station for a suspicious reason) contact the number for ACLU’s Election Protection: (866) 687-8683. The website provides detailed information for contacting officials in your own state.

What should you do if there are intimidating political groups or others protesting outside your polling place?

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Nearly every state in America prohibits people from political campaigning within 100 feet of the voting station. If you are aggressively accosted by someone attempting to persuade or dissuade your voting choice, alert a polling official.

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Black Women Proved They Are the Backbone of the Democratic Party This Election

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Black Women Proved They Are the Backbone of the Democratic Party This Election

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The election is finally over and the people have spoken. Former Vice President Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States.

When Joe Biden took the stage to give his acceptance speech after being announced the project winner of the 2020 election, he thanked his supporters, which he called “the broadest and most diverse coalition in history.” And finally, he said this: “Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the The African American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”

But it was one group in particular that went above and beyond when it came to showing up for Joe Biden: Black women.

Exit polls show that 93% of Black women cast their vote for Joe Biden this year–more than any gender and ethnic subgroup. Because Black women showed up in large numbers and overwhelmingly cast their vote for Joe Biden this election, they may have single-handedly tipped the vote in his favor.

If you’ve followed the news closely, you know that it was key battleground states like Georgia and Pennsylvania decided this election. These states have major metropolitan cities like Atlanta and Philadelphia that have large Black populations. The Black women of these battleground states put in the work of organizing, campaigning, and rallying for the Democratric nominee.

As the news rolled in that Georgia–a state that has reliably gone red since 1992–was projected to flip blue, pundits and online commenters felt the need to give credit to Stacey Abrams. Abrams was the 2018 Democratic candidate for Georgia’s gubernatorial election.

After Abrams lost the election, she founded Fair Fight Action, an organization that aims to promote “fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.” Since its inception Fair Fight Action has registered an estimated 800,000 new voters.

The promising news is that it appears that Black women will no longer have to carry the Democratic party alone. In Arizona, Latinas also organized en masse, mobilizing their community with the express goal of getting Trump out of office. Latina activists helped to flip Arizona blue [note: as of November 9th, the AP still projects that Arizona will go blue).

The model of grassroots organization goes back to Black female activists like Stacey Abrams who believed in her community enough to fight for it. Abrams knew she was only one of thousands of women like her who wanted a better country, so she set about mobilizing her community of like-minded people. And because of Abrams and Black women activists like her, we have a new president.

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As Puerto Rico Votes To Become The 51st State, Here’s What Happens Next

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As Puerto Rico Votes To Become The 51st State, Here’s What Happens Next

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The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico has long been contentious, ever since the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, the Caribbean island has been in a strange limbo position between a ‘U.S. Territory’ and unofficially as the world’s oldest colony.

Although they’re U.S. citizens in name and passport, Puerto Rican’s who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for president, don’t have voting representation in Congress, and have been saddled with a fiscal oversight board (PROMESA) in order to repay its debts—forcing austerity on residents suffering a 23% unemployment rate and a much higher rate of poverty than the incorporated states.

But this week, on Election Day, Puerto Ricans voted—for the sixth time since 1967—on whether they prefer the ongoing territorial status, or to become a U.S. state and the results are in: it’s pro-statehood.

Last week, Puerto Ricans voted to support U.S. statehood.

As Puerto Ricans voted on Tuesday for their local leaders, there was another decision they had to make: Whether or not the island territory should be admitted as the newest U.S. state. Although it’s a non-binding referendum and not expected to change Puerto Rico’s status anytime soon, it was still seen as a barometer of Puerto Ricans’ appetite for statehood.

So far, with most of the votes counted, residents narrowly favored statehood with 52% of the vote while about 47% of voters were against it, according to the election commission’s website.

Although the U.S. mainland still sees Puerto Rico as a commonwealth, many Puerto Ricans, including the island’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, a Republican, say the island is constantly treated as a colony.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit ironic that the beacon of democracy in the world, which is the United States, is fighting for equality and fighting for democracy and yet you get it in your own backyard — the oldest colony, with more than 120 years without allowing Puerto Rican’s to vote for president, to vote in Congress or to even have federal laws apply equally to American citizens on the island,” said González, who was reelected as commissioner last Tuesday.

But what’s next? There are many obstacles standing in the way.

Even though President-Elect Joe Biden is a backer of statehood, as are top Democrats in the House and Senate and some Florida Republicans, it’s unclear how much of a priority Puerto Rico would be if Democrats take control of both the White House and Congress. The drive is complicated by a separate but often-paired push for statehood for the District of Columbia.

“It is unlikely that the question of Puerto Rico as a state will be taken up by the Congress,” says political scientist and researcher Carlos Vargas Ramos, in an interview with ABC News.

Aside from being a nonbinding referendum, Ramos said voter turnout in this referendum could still be an issue for Congress. As of September 2020, there were around 2.3 million eligible voters on the island, according to the election commission’s website. From those eligible voters, nearly 1.2 million people answered the statehood plebiscite.

“It’s gonna be difficult for advocates of statehood to argue that this is a clear mandate to push for statehood, particularly when you have a Congress that is reluctant to take up the question,” added Vargas Ramos.

Puerto Rican statehood would create consequences far beyond the island.

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Although the referendum only dealt with Puerto Rico’s future, it could have ramifications far beyond the territory. Puerto Rican statehood would mean Americans on the island could vote in presidential elections, have quick access to federal aid in crises and gain full representation in Congress.

“Puerto Ricans get treated in many ways like second-class citizens,” U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who has introduced his own bill setting forth a process of admission for the island, said in an interview with ABC News.

In Congress, statehood for Puerto Rico would result in two new senators and four representatives to the House. If the District of Columbia gains statehood at the same time, that would mean another two senators and one additional House member.

The decision could even have implications for travelers to the island.

Right now, about 95 percent of visitors to Puerto Rico come from the U.S., but many in the tourism industry would like to see more international visitors from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Currently, citizens of the whole of nearby Latin America and the Caribbean require a visa to enter the U.S., and thus Puerto Rico.

And thanks to the pandemic the island has suffered huge losses in tourism dollars. Thelack of control that Puerto Rico has over its own travel regulations means that the industry will have to wait quite a while to make up for that loss, while the U.S. at large continues to be an undesirable destination for international travelers.

The matter is complicated by the Jones Act of 1920, which requires that all goods come to Puerto Rico through the U.S. If this were finally overturned, it would allow direct trade with other nations and decrease the prices of food and other items sold on the island. Right now, travelers looking to the Caribbean can go to the Dominican Republic much more affordably.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty, one thing is clear: things need to change.

The relationship between the U.S. and its Puerto Rican territory has long been one of violence; independence movements and even the flag have been made illegal in the past by the U.S. This reality is often hidden from travelers, but should be acknowledged and respected.

But where the island goes from here is not a cut-and-dry question, as deep ties have developed over the more than 100 years of colonialism that would require years of change, whether sovereignty were won or statehood were decided upon. 

That moment might be coming: Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is now trying to push the Puerto Rican Self-Determination Act of 2020, which would form a status convention made up of Puerto Rican voters who would be tasked with deciding upon a long-term solution. In the meantime, travelers should remember that sun, sand, and rum don’t tell the whole story—and that the future of the archipelago should be determined by Puerto Ricans.

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