Not gonna lie, homechickens, election day is my favorite day of the year, and it has been since I was a wee thing and my house was the polling place. I used to become unbearably excited the night before when we set up all the polling stations and the ballot box, and on the day of, I always insisted on staying home from school to watch; at the end of the day, my father and I would make a big pasta dinner for all the pollworkers and anyone else who happened to drop by to vote in the evening.
I thought that my incessant love for voting would stop when I grew up and became old and jaded, but it turns out that it hasn't. I vote in every single election, no matter how "small," because local elections count, local ballot measures count, and local officials count -- as do, of course, state and federal races.
We're not going to tell you how to vote here at xoJane -- we just want you to vote, and we hope it was a smooth and fast process whether you mailed in an absentee ballot (did you know you can check with your county clerk to confirm that your ballot was received and processed?) or headed to the polls for early voting, or voted today! (I voted early, thanks for asking.)
We'd love to hear your voting stories below -- and if you did encounter any problems at the polls, please report them to Election Protection (866-OUR-VOTE). If you haven't voted yet, here's a handy map of state-by-state poll opening and closing times to make sure you get a chance to hit the polls. (It's your legal right to request time off from work if you need it to vote, incidentally, and in your state, it may be paid.)
While we talk voting and hitting the polls, it's worth casting a thought to those who won't be voting today: Those who are disenfranchised by default, law, or access problems.
Nearly 5.3 million otherwise eligible voters are barred from the polls in the US because of a history of felonies, a practice known as felon disenfranchisement that has become more controversial in recent years. In addition to preventing people from voting while in jail, some states also don't allow ex-felons to vote. This isn't just an abridgment of civil rights for prisoners: It's also, inevitably, racist, given the massive racial disparities in the prison system. Some argue that the situation in the current justice system is "the new Jim Crow," and suppressing the vote for felons serves to reinforce racist policies. (Fun aside: Even Republicans are starting to change their minds on the same "tough on crime" laws that are putting so many young Black men in prison.)
Meanwhile, Jon Stewart may have said it best when he described voter ID laws as "pretty voter suppress-y." Such laws, in effect in a number of states, require people to bring government identification to the polls in order to vote, which puts a number of protected classes at risk, including people who can't access documentation like birth certificates, don't drive, don't travel, and can't afford the fees required to get government IDs. Texas, for example, has seen a surge in voter disenfranchisement directly linked to ID laws. People who are eligible to vote in all other respects aren't being allowed to register, and/or are being turned away at the polls, because they lack sufficient identification.
Voting rights are also restricted in the disabled community, where a number of states actually ban voting altogether for people with certain psychiatric conditions and developmental disabilities. In other states, disabled voters face problems like inaccessible voting machines, polling places they can't even get into with wheelchairs and other mobility aids, and demands to cast provisional ballots because they can't communicate with polling workers. Despite laws like the ADA and the Help America Vote Act, the disabled vote trails around 20 percentage points behind the nondisabled vote.
Voting is also tough in communities where poll hours conflict with work schedules, where employers threaten retribution for people who take time off from work, where voters are intimidated at and around the polls, where political campaigns deliberately mislead voters as to polling times, and more.
Voting is a fundamental right in the United States, and a cornerstone of democratic participation. May those of us who retain those right go out to vote on behalf of those who don't -- and continue to fight for their right to participate in democracy in advance of the critical 2016 Presidential race. Because when millions of people can't vote, that's not a free and fair election.
Electoral politics may be getting you down, but please consider taking the time to hit the polls today to make your voice known.