BUFFALO, N.Y. —  VOICE Buffalo and its partners held a Souls to the Polls community party Saturday that encouraged the importance of early voting, especially among Black and brown people who feel discouraged due to historical instances of voter suppression.

While the event served as a block party which featured refreshments, music and swag bags to encourage early voting, it was also an educational platform.

What You Need To Know

  • VOICE Buffalo organized a Souls to the Polls block party at the Delavan Grider Community Center, an early voting site

  • Besides encouraging community bonding, the event also highlighted the importance of voting in Black and brown communities

  • Topics included early voting importance, filling out ballots in their entirety, and researching candidates before voting

  • The event also encouraged voting for people with prior criminal offenses who may be unsure of their eligibility

From personal testimonies to statistical information, speakers shared why heading to the polls before and on Election Day is critical to influencing change that underrepresented communities’ desire and need most.

“This is something that’s impactful, this is something that’s powerful, and this is something that’s going to cause the transformative work that needs to happen to get our community to be the beloved community that we all want to be part of and we can rejoice in,” said lead organizer of VOICE Buffalo Rev. Denise Walden.

In addition to emphasizing why voting is important, speakers also explained that who voters cast their ballots for is just as meaningful, not in terms of specific candidates, as this was a nonpartisan event, but rather ensuring votes are cast for all seats. While all eyes are on the mayoral race, the candidates of other positions are just as influential in local government and policy, like the next county sheriff, for example.

“We want people to vote in every single local election, but we cannot leave this line blank at all,” said the executive director of VOICE Buffalo, Whitney Walker. “We can’t leave any line blank. For the first time in 16 years, the sheriff’s office is an open seat, and so voters need to decide. Voters need to show up and they need to fill out every single line in office because it’s so incredibly important.”

Souls to the Polls has been organized for the past three decades to give power to voters, from pre-registering youths to helping verifying the eligibility of individuals with prior convictions; some who spent decades incarcerated came out to cast their ballots at the community center. 

Street Certified is a branch of VOICE Buffalo that puts voting power back in the hands of those with criminal records, which is important in influencing decisions from availability of mental health resources to securing better futures for those who have had legal problems early in life.

“Who better to know the problems of the system than you?” movement organizer for Street Certified John Smith said. “So if you learn these politics and you learn these people that you’re voting for, learn these policies—look at all the policies we got changed in the short period of time that we were out here. That’s only one, so let’s get Clean Slate passed, because most of these kids that are going Upstate are not coming back home the same.”