I remember voting for the first time two years ago in the 2016 election, just days after I turned 18 years old. I was experiencing a lot of different emotions. Anger. Excitement. Passion. Those emotions did stay with me, in varying degrees, throughout my journey in learning more and more about the importance of participating in our democracy. What stayed with me more than anything else, however, is how easy it felt to vote in North Dakota. I did not have to pre-register. I did not have to attain additional identification beyond what I already owned. There were multiple polling locations, the lines were not awfully long–the voting locations were generally accessible.
Though I had a generally positive first experience at the polls, I cannot speak to the particular voting experiences of others in North Dakota. Maybe the lines were longer at some points in the day. Maybe a few poll clerks gave inaccurate answers to questions. Maybe some folks’ identification was outdated or forgotten at home. What I can speak to is that my experience with voting is not universal. Aside from some of these smaller hurdles in voting, thousands of our fellow Americans hold vastly different relationships with voting. Every state other than North Dakota forces people to undergo some form of registration. Beyond navigating the process of registering, and all the convoluted rules that can go along with it, the simple logistics of voting––countless instances of poll clerks turning people away, voter rolls being inaccurate or purged, even the inconvenience of voting felt due to responsibilities at work, school or other life obligations––all play a role in discouraging people to vote.
Even further than the logistics of voting, there are ever-present efforts to stifle our democracy as opposed to bolstering it. From Georgia’s voter roll purges and absentee ballot throw-outs, to a last-minute rule change in our own state, the accessibility, convenience, and basic right to vote is seemingly in perpetual jeopardy. Many of these efforts are deemed “just part of the law,” or are upheld by various courts, and so are not always pushed back against. However, as history has taught us time and time again, something being “legal,” doesn’t always mean that it is right. Especially when these efforts to stifle our democracy aim to impact particular communities and groups of people.
Watching these efforts to suppress, or even disenfranchise voters has been incredibly frustrating. Heck, since coming to college here in New York, I have seen how much of a chore voting can be, even without facing an onslaught of attacks on my right to vote. Voting as an absentee can be, frankly, inconvenient, especially in the midst of exam season when my mind is on plenty of other things. Regardless, voting here has forced me to acknowledge how much easier it appears to vote in North Dakota than other places in our country. Each time I explained how accessible it felt to vote in North Dakota, my classmates could not believe it. They are shocked, surprised, but more than anything else, envious. Envious that it is supposed to be easy to participate. Envious that our system was built to be easy for our voices to be heard, particularly since the voting booth is the one place where our voices can actually mean something. And to know that there are efforts to make this apparent gold-standard for voting harder for people? That is truly disheartening.
More than anything else, I truly believe that Americans are starting to realize how important it is to fight to preserve and spread the right to vote to as many people as possible. As frustrated as I am to see the right to vote under jeopardy, I am even more encouraged to see and hear all the diverse and impassioned voices rising to defend our fellow citizens’ right to contribute to our democracy. And that encouragement, and that hope, is why I am so excited to vote this November–and why I hope you all will not only join me in voting but also in using our voices to continue to fight and protect the right to vote for everyone–no matter what the law tells us.
Vote, vote, vote!