It is becoming increasingly obvious that US democracy is at stake in the November. It is equally clear that the stakes have never been higher – elected leaders will be making key decisions on an unprecedented number of aspects of American (and global) life that are broken: education, healthcare, income inequality, racial discrimination, criminal justice, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, the economy, job creation, the climate and so on.
In this context, it is my duty to vote because so many others (mostly through no fault of their own) cannot vote. Note: I didn’t say ‘do not choose to vote’, which is an entirely different issue altogether – 100M people chose not to vote in 2016 – 100M voices which could have had an electoral impact on the all the issues above, but chose not to).
This is why I vote. It’s also why I forcefully nudge everyone I know to vote. Beyond this, however, there is also the very real concern in the 2020 election that many votes will not even be counted.
Don’t assume everyone will vote.
You may be surprised by how many people you think vote do not actually do so. In 2008, I served as a Deputy Director of Voter Protection on a presidential campaign. Among the many, many things I learned about civic action and organizing, it was that it (then) took 6 “touches” with an eligible voter to move him/her to action. With the everyday onslaught of texts, emails, social media, it is too easy to procrastinate on your voter registration, address change or absentee/mail-in ballot request,and then to take the final action of standing in line at a poll or completing a ballot in the comfort of your home by mail.
Your friends, colleagues, parents, grandparents, or others may not be registered to vote. Worse, in some cases, they may think they are registered, but fail to verify until it’s too late. (Few states offer same-day registration and voting.) They may have moved and forgotten to register an address change; registration may have lapsed due to inactivity (yes, that’s a thing in some states); or maybe they assumed registration happened successfully at the DMV. In other words, if you’re not registered to vote, it may be because the system doesn’t want you to be.
VOTER SUPPRESSION IS REAL
The issues above, which appear to be logistical issues and voter errors, are also classic voter suppression tactics. Between 2016 and 2018 over 17 million names were purged from voter rolls across the United States. Oklahoma alone purged 10% of its voter rolls. More than 230,000 people were removed from Wisconsin’s voter rolls. In 2017, (now) Governor Brian Kemp removed 500,000 people from Georgia’s voter rolls and held up 53,000 registrations over punctuation(!). That’s right: a misplaced comma or hyphen could prevent you from voting.The nature of your name, a suspected move, if you are/were a convicted felon, and other reasons could unknowingly prevent your vote. Check out the Brennen Center’s research on voter purging in your state.
This is just one of the many ways in which America’s elections are not really free. How we vote is also structurally racist. Black people are 74% more likely to wait in line more than 30 minutes at their polling place. And, yes, long lines can be a method of voter suppression. Long lines particularly affect lower income voters – which disproportionately affects BIPOC — who may not get the time off work to vote and can least afford to do so (this is not even taking Covid-19 into account). But long lines may be the least of your worries if polling places are reduced in number, such as they were in Wisconsin in April 2020 (180 polling places reduced to 5), Atlanta (where people waited 5 hours in line to complete paper ballots because the machines broke), or Kentucky (where 600,000 voters had to queue for a singular polling place.) The frequency and location of these occurrences are designed to discourage people from voting.
Other voter suppression methods in practice include:
– Changing the address or access to polling places
– Misinformation about voting access (in general and at the polls)
– Reduced early voting
– Reduced voting hours
– Requiring excuses for absentee/mail-in voting
– Disenfranchisement of felons
– Criminalizing voter registration drives
– Flawed voter roll purges
– Voter intimidation
– Ballot rejection (whether at a poll or by mail)
– Reducing access to or the function of services to accept or deliver ballots
– Voter ID requirements
This may seem scary – and it is — but the more informed you are, the more likely you are to cast a ballot successfully (and to be able to help your friends and colleagues to do so).
IN THE TIME IT TAKES TO BREW COFFEE, YOU CAN REGISTER TO VOTE
If you put your mind to it, registering to vote or requesting an absentee ballot can take you less than 5 minutes. Take the time to confirm that you are registered, register or request an absentee ballot. Want to read a comprehensive guide to state voting drafted by the National Association of the Secretaries of State? Click here for English or Spanish. You can check your registration, register, find your polling place, check ID requirements, and get your State’s voter assistance. If you make a daily list of the 3 most important things to accomplish today, make voting number one.
If it seems complicated, you’re right (it’s all too often designed to be), but it’s worth the effort. Many people find voting confusing – especially first-time voters. Nearly 37% of eligible voters are under 40 years old. They alone can determine the future of America through their (in)action.
MAKE YOUR OWN POLLING PLACE
In 2016, I cuddled my then 2-year old daughter and 4-year old son in my lap on the floor of my living room and completed my absentee ballot to vote (right before I left to volunteer for voter protection on another presidential campaign). My kids did not understand the privilege of that moment (both to vote for a particular presidential candidate and to have the freedom to vote at my convenience), but now they do. Those few square feet of my living room were one of the many things that inspired me to launch wevotebymail.org (and votamosporcorreo.org) — a non-partisan project to help people re-imagine the polling place and make it easy to request an absentee ballot.
Nearly 84% of eligible voters can vote by mail in 2020. If you vote by mail, then you can vote from anywhere. Everywherebecomes a polling place: your kitchen table, bedroom, backyard chair, park bench, even a spot of grass outside is a place where you can fill out your ballot. (We’d love to see your polling place! Visit us here to submit photo or video content. We’d love to feature yours!) The Instagram has visual inspo, voter information and key dates, and the website takes users to the exact location to register to vote or request a mail-in/absentee ballot. Voting by mail encourages people who are least likely to vote to go the polls. You also don’t need a mask to vote by mail.
Mail-in voting fraud is rare — 0.0000006% according to the (conservative) Heritage Foundation. Mail-in voting also dates back to the Civil War. Since then, millions of Americans have safely cast ballots from all corners of America and around the globe.
This year, unfortunately, it is also at risk. If you vote by mail, mail your ballot as early as possible! (This means that the earlier you register to vote, the earlier you will receive your ballot.) Each state has different rules about whether the ballot must be received or postmarked by Election Day. Or, use a county election ballot box in which to deposit it. (To find yours, search for your county’s election official’s website.)
NUDGE 5 PEOPLE TODAY
Your voice is your vote. Use it on your ballot and use it with your community. Encourage others to vote and get their commitment. Sites like WhenWeAllVote.org, TurboVote, Vote.org, VoteAmerica.org can help you register and share with your friends. Commit to nudging 5 people and make your plans together on how, where and when you will vote. Remember: someone else may not be able to use their voice. You must use your own.
A small shift of motivated voters can change an election.
About The Author
Jennifer Hill started wevotebymail.org, a non-partisan effort to reframe the polling place (Instagram and Twitter), to help inspire people to vote. If you vote by mail, you can vote fromanywhere! A New Jersey mom of two, she works in thehealthcare analytics industry. She held leadership roles for voter protection efforts on two presidential campaigns, practiced start-up/technology law and organized efforts to increase funding for women-led high-growth ventures. She has appeared as a business/legal expert on MSNBC, CBS Interactive, Entrepreneur, AMEXOpen, and many other publications.
Find her on Twitter