CN: general discussion of recent and historical voter suppression; brief mention of the pandemic, fascism, and climate change.
If voting didn’t have a real impact, politicians wouldn’t work so hard to prevent marginalized people from doing it.
This year’s election in the United States is incredibly important and there are even more factors working against us than usual: We know that there will likely be interference from foreign governments with our election; the pandemic has made in-person voting outright dangerous and some republicans have put up resistance to switching to mail-in voting; even for states that have successfully implement mail-in voting, new limitations on the USPS have caused serious delays in their ability to process mail in a timely manner; and then we still have our baseline level of voter suppression on top of everything. We have a lot of resistance to overcompensate for.
My job, here, is to make it as easy as possible for you to vote and for you to pass along everything you learn. If you have felt at all uncertain or overwhelmed by the prospect of voting, everything you need to know about what to do is accessible right here.
Note: Many of the linked resources contain overlapping information. I have organized them based on what each resource is best at providing and/or what it provides that other resources do not.
How to Vote
To cover the very basics of voting, The Washington Post has created an interactive page titled “How to Vote in Your State.” All you have to do is input your state, whether you’re registered to vote, and whether you plan to vote in person or by mail, and in return, it gives you all the basic voting info you’ll need, such as:
- Last day to register to vote (if you haven’t already)
- When your ballots will be sent to you
- How and when to return your ballots
- How to track your ballot once returned (if available in your state)
The information offered is straight forward and the interactive nature of the site is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Because many states have implemented new one-time voting laws this year due to the pandemic, I recommend checking the voting info for your state, even if you think you know everything already.
Check Your Registration and/or Register to Vote
If you are unsure whether or not you are registered to vote, or you know for certain that you aren’t, visit the NASS website and click on “Voter Registration Status” or “Register to Vote.”
Even if you feel certain that you are registered, it’s recommended that you double-check your registration anyway and make sure all your information is up to date, in order to avoid any bureaucratic mix-ups.
How to Vote in Highly Restrictive States
Perhaps the most useful tool in this compilation, Slate has put together a comprehensive guide, “The Best Way to Vote in Every State” which includes not only state-specific voting information but potential hurdles or things that make voting in each state difficult. They accompany this information with their recommendations for the best ways to clear these hurdles.
Slate’s recommendations even include the relevant links you’ll need to complete their advice; for example, in a warning about challenging ID laws in your state, they also provide a link to your state’s official listing of which forms of ID are valid.
There isn’t a built-in way to efficiently find your state on the alphabetical list other than scrolling, but you can hit Command-F on Mac, Ctrl-F on PC to search the webpage, where you can type in the name of your state and be taken right to it.
Compensate for Delays due to the USPS
IMPORTANT NOTE FROM SLATE: “We urge voters to request an absentee ballot immediately—as in, right now—and return it well in advance of Nov. 3.”
If Slate’s instructions for your state include requesting an absentee ballot, don’t wait! Due to delays in the USPS, it’s important to request, fill out, and turn in your ballot early and if possible, it is recommended that you physically drop off your ballot instead of relying on the mail to transport it.
Slate also included the following relevant note:
“We’ve have not mentioned rules that require ballots to be postmarked by a certain date because ballots sent through USPS routinely arrive with an illegible postmark or with none at all. We also encourage voters to drop off their ballots if possible, the most dependable method of transportation. If you prefer to mail your ballot, we have explained how you can track your ballot to ensure it is received and counted. We have excluded which states pay for postage on ballots—in part because the laws here are changing fast but also because we suggest voters physically return their ballots.”
Trouble Shooting and Edge Cases
Voter suppression can be encountered at pretty much any stage of the voting process, which is why the ACLU has info on voter’s rights that includes, “how to exercise your voting rights, resist voter intimidation efforts, and access disability-related accommodations and language assistance at the polls.”
Rock the Vote also has a great FAQ that covers many of the less common scenarios around voting such as if you have just moved to a new state, if you go to college in a different state from where you are registered, if you are in the armed forces etc.
Assisting with the Delivery of Ballots
If your state allows people other than the voter to deliver their ballot in person and you have access to reliable transportation, consider offering to deliver ballots for friends or family who don’t have the same ease of access or offering them transportation to their ballot drop-off site.
Because not all states allow someone other than the voter to deliver their ballot or and some have specific restrictions on doing so, make sure to check this list to see what the laws are in your state.
Note: The passage at the beginning of the page linked above explains that there are new temporary policy adjustments in the wake of COVID19 that they haven’t included in this list, but these adjustments are not specifically relevant to whether someone else can deliver your ballot for you. Any new policies for this year have been incorporated into Slate’s resource linked earlier.
It is important to keep in mind that “ballot harvesting” can be a potential avenue for fraud, so if you’re interested in having someone else deliver your ballot or in helping others deliver their ballots (if doing so is permitted in your state), stick to only making these arrangements with people you know well and trust.
Learn About What and Who is on Your Ballot
In my home state, we always receive a pamphlet of information about everything we’ll be voting on in the upcoming election. But unfortunately, many states don’t offer this luxury!
Instead, I’ll point you to Headcount, which has a list of five recommended sites where you can get non-partisan info on the issues and candidates that will be on the ballot specific to your area. (If you’re reading this in September or early October, there may not be any info available on those websites yet. Check back closer to the election.)
Even if you do receive an info pamphlet of some kind, these sites can be useful because their info continues to get updated leading up to the election, whereas pamphlets only contain what people submitted before a deadline.
Why You Should Vote
My goal with this article was to overcome any sources of resistance to voting, which is why I need to also address the existence of personal resistance.
Many marginalized people have died fighting for the right to vote in US history. As a result, even though it seems boring and useless on the surface, I consider voting to be a radical act. As a culture, we have a hard time thinking in terms of collective responsibility. Your vote, on its own, is not enough to sway the tide. But when enough individual people make that choice simultaneously, it enables change to happen. That change cannot happen without that collective effort.
While some people choose not to vote as a way of protesting our admittedly corrupt system, I don’t believe that abstaining from voting is radical or disruptive at all. If you choose not to vote on principle, your choice is indistinguishable from someone who chooses not to vote out of apathy or who forgets to vote.
Despite widespread voter suppression preventing marginalized people who want and need to vote, from doing so, after every election there are countless opinion pieces bemoaning the US’s terrible voter turn-out rate (Only 55% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2016 election). Do they point to the public’s decision to abstain from voting as a compelling form of political protest that’s sweeping the nation? No. They blame the apathy of the American public. Regardless of your intentions, your protest will not be remembered as you taking a stand against an oppressive system. You will be remembered as being one of millions who simply didn’t care.
I’m well aware that our voting system is messed up, even without all the interference we’re facing this year. The current system ensures that a certain kind of politician is consistently successful, and that kind of politician is usually not progressive enough for my tastes. I, like many others with similar political priorities, am not enthusiastic about the candidate we ended up with.
But I’m going to tell you to vote for Biden, anyway. With the system we have and the candidates we have, voting for Biden is the best option for harm reduction certainly for marginalized groups, but also for our country overall and for our collective impact on the rest of the world. The rise of fascism, containment of Covid19, and climate change are all pressing and global issues that need immediate action. We can’t let any more damage be done.
I also know that if you’ve decided not to vote for Biden or not to vote for any presidential candidate, after everything that’s happened, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to persuade you to do otherwise now.
So instead, I’ll expend my energy to persuade you to vote in the part of the election that doesn’t get nearly enough attention for the amount of impact it has on our lives.
Why You Should Vote Down-ticket
It’s incredibly common for folks to vote for a presidential candidate and skip the majority of the rest of their ballot. This is a huge mistake!
Greta Christina makes a compelling case in her article, “Why You Should Vote in Downticket Races — and a Neat Trick For Doing It”:
“Local elections profoundly affect your everyday life. What’s taught in public schools; whether your landlord can raise your rent any time they want; whether streets and sewers are repaired (and which ones get attention first); whether racist cops are disciplined; whether the community college is funded; which buildings can be torn down and put up; whether your city has a minimum wage that reflects economic reality; whether AirBnB gets to ignore hotel and housing laws; whether the homeless people on your block will be sheltered or arrested — all of this and much more gets decided on the local level.”
Similarly, this 2014 article from The Root is still incredibly relevant, as it goes into detail about specific state representatives that we are responsible for voting for, and the real impact the people in those positions have on our every day lives.
If you have examined your conscience and you cannot bring yourself to vote for a presidential candidate, I ask you urgently and genuinely, please vote down ticket.
Other Ways to Get Involved
Lastly, if you’re interested in finding ways to be involved in getting more people to vote, there are a few things you can do.
Volunteer for established organizations such as Rock the Vote or When We All Vote. By getting involved in a larger organization, people who are familiar with what’s needed and how to do it can easily magnify the impact of the time you’re able to contribute.
Donate to established organizations. Again I recommend donating to Rock the Vote or When We All Vote. If you don’t have extra time available, but you do have money, you’ll enable their work to go farther even if you can’t be present for it.
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About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. In addition to creating a collection of educational resources for social justice, she works as a freelance writer specializing in content about her experience with disability, chronic illness, mental health, and trauma. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, Betty’s Battleground, and Splain You a Thing. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Instagram.