Voting is terrifying.
At least, that’s how I viewed it before I registered. It was this horrifying sign that I was becoming an adult and would soon need to contribute to society. I was growing up and gaining responsibilities I wasn’t used to having.
For me, the idea of putting my voice in a ballot just seemed…unnatural. I hadn’t had a say for the past eighteen years, and now here I was, about to register and see what my voice would do.
This was about a year ago. I was living in Atlanta, Georgia for college and they were coming upon an important election. It was a tight race for the position of governor between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Of course, since I was on a lively college campus, I found myself surrounded by talks of the debate and arguments about who to vote for.
For the most part, everyone I knew was supporting Stacey Abrams. I was, too. I supported everything she stood for, and I thought she’d do a great job as Georgia’s governor.
Even though I’d felt that way, the vote wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I continued on my merry way, going to classes and studying for tests. I wasn’t even thinking about it until a club at my school called me over from a table they’d set up outside my dorm and suggested I register.
I’ll be completely honest: I hadn’t been planning on registering. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. But since they were standing there, willing to register me right on the spot…I took a chance. I registered as a Georgia voter.
The next week or so was a blur of more schoolwork and hanging out with friends. Eventually, voting day came. There was a sort of tension on campus. Most people wanted Abrams to win, but nobody was certain she would. Even though Atlanta is generally quite liberal, the rest of Georgia wasn’t.
I got to the voting site, once again scared but excited.
I was finally doing it. I was using my rights as an American citizen to cast my own ballot and see the results of my actions. It was empowering.
And of course, right at that moment of self-confidence, everything went wrong.
I hadn’t known much about voting. All I’d known was that I’d filled out a couple sheets of paper and submitted them to be registered. My registration had supposedly been confirmed. Yet, when I walked up to the three women working at the table where people checked in to vote, I received some bad news.
I gave them my name and one of them searched the computers. Next thing I knew, the lady was shaking her head and telling me I wasn’t in the system.
At that point, I felt a little panicked. This was my first time voting and already things were going wrong. They were telling me I could still submit a provisional ballot, but all I could feel was frustration. I’d gone all this way to vote and now I was being told I couldn’t.
My first instinct was to text the girl who’d registered me. She explained that she wasn’t sure what had happened, but it had also happened with some other people. She said she’d try to fix it. I spent the next hour, yes, an hour, in the provisional ballot line.
Finally, the girl responded back to me with a link that would tell me if I was registered. And there, on that website, it said I was. The women behind the desk had been wrong.
Essentially, there had been two voting sites next to each other. One of them was a church, the other the school. I’d gone to the school, where they’d claimed that since I wasn’t showing up on their lists, it meant I wasn’t registered, period. I even asked if it maybe I was supposed to go to the church instead, but they just shook their heads.
On that website, it clearly said I was supposed to vote in the church. At that point, I’d wasted an hour, felt guilty about dragging my friend with me through this horror show, and was still very frustrated that I’d been told incorrect information that nearly made me give up on voting.
While I’m sure what happened was an honest mistake, it does say something about our system. While things can never be perfect, voting should be something that people put a lot more effort into. In current times, where there’s so much controversy with fake news and contaminating ballots, it’s more important than ever that every single vote counts. Maybe my voice was only one in a million, but I’d nearly been discouraged from voting all together because of misinformation.
My problem was minor compared to issues so many other people in America face. I understand that it can’t compare to the barriers different minorities have faced and still struggle with today. It also doesn’t compare to the current ex-convict disenfranchisement situation. Overall, what all of these things tell me is that we’ve got a lot to work to do when it comes to voting.
Even if what I went through wasn’t the worst that could happen, it definitely proved that this system needs work. Just the fact that it wasn’t just me, but a group of others who’d also been told they couldn’t vote is somewhat disturbing. Nobody should be made to believe they can’t vote. Small obstacles such as these can discourage voting, not only in that moment, but for future years. I definitely wouldn’t feel confident that my voice was being heard if I hadn’t figured out that I was actually registered.
As a democracy, our nation is supposed to listen to its people. That’s the point of democracy. If our voting system is weak and exclusive, we can never be a successful democracy. This is more relevant than ever as the 2020 presidential election is starting to come up on the horizon. For this reason, I believe it’s necessary that we work on fixing these issues to ensure that every single voice is really being heard.
Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash
Also published on Medium.