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When you informed us the other day that you’d never voted, I died a little inside.
To understand the depths of my horror, it may help you to know that when we returned to the States, we lived in a polling place; every election, the gallery in the front of our house was converted into a polling station, and we vied with the polling station across the street1 to see who could get the best turnout. Being an enterprising young capitalist, I sold cherry pies. At the end of the day, my father and I cooked up a big pot of spaghetti and sauce and served dinner to the poll workers and anyone else who might happen by.
There may or may not have been bottles of wine on the table, which got hastily stuck underneath when anyone unfamiliar showed up.
The ballots went into a big black drum, and at the end of the night we loaded it up in someone’s Volvo to go over the hill to Ukiah for counting, a one-and-a-half hour drive; it’s counties like ours that explain why it takes so damn long to get election results. We’d come up with entertaining ways to dispose of the unused ballots. Running them through bandsaws, shooting them, setting them on fire, feeding them to goats.
For me, elections were a time of great excitement. Because I looked forward to them so much, I started following politics, because I wanted to make sure I never missed an election. I was more informed about the issues than a lot of his dinner guests, which sometimes made for awkward conversation; I'll never forget the vigorous argument over Prop 209 with one of my father's conservative friends! My father let me stay home for voting day because I was way too excited to be any good at all in school. I longed to vote in an election of my very own, and he used to take me to the polling stand with him when he cast his ballot so I could watch.
I remember listening to Presidential debates on the radio, and listening to the 1992 election results on the way to my father’s girlfriend’s house in Gualala. The radio went out part way through and I screamed and cried until he turned the car around and searched for the signal. We sat on a vista point and listened to the results roll in. I was so happy when Bill Clinton won because he was the guy with the sax2.
In college, I helped organize voter registration drives, arrange for transport to get disabled and elderly voters to the polls, and make sure students knew about their voting rights. I even flew down to Florida to volunteer during the 2000 recount. It turns out Florida has a lot of fire ants.
And I was so, so excited when I turned 18 and got to send in my voter registration paperwork and cast my very own ballot for the first time.
So you can see why I was shocked and appalled by your confession that you’d never voted.
I’m really excited to know that you’re thinking about voting, but I want to make sure that you’re registered to vote, because it would totally suck to go to the polls and find out you couldn’t cast a ballot.
You didn’t say if you were registered or not; some people are registered but have never voted and that might be the case with you. If you think you are, please check with Can I Vote? to see what's on the record. You can also get information about the location of your polling place or how to apply for an absentee ballot in the process, so you have TWO options for voting.
And if you’re not registered, GIRL, GET ON IT. Can I Vote? has info, and also you can get forms at, like, any government office ever, and you can also ask to have one MAILED TO YOU. How convenient is THAT?
I know that you live in New York, but if you suddenly relocate somewhere, it might be good for you to know that the specifics of voting laws vary by state. Each state has a different process and different voter registration deadlines –- you can check this handy list to get more information. And if you happen to find yourself overseas, well, this list has information about overseas ballot mailing deadlines. Some of them are coming up awfully quick! There’s lots more information about overseas voting here; no reason to miss out because you’re not on US soil.
And if anything weird happens to you or someone you know on Election Day, please report it at the precinct, and report it to Election Protection. Because your vote counts, Emily, and I want to make sure it gets counted right alongside mine. Women went on hunger strikes so prolonged that prison officials subjected them to force-feeding so you could vote, lady!
This is a big election not just because of the Presidential race, but because of state, regional and local issues. Please consider voting your whole ballot, and if you’re not sure about who you want to vote for, groups like the League of Women Voters and NARAL have comprehensive and really useful endorsement information.
You can also visit a site like Project Vote Smart to learn more about specific issues and candidates; when I’m being especially lazy, I’ll check out their interest group ratings. If someone has, say, a 100% positive rating from a right-to-life group, that’s an easy no vote. Project Vote Smart also has histories of key votes, information on candidates, and other cool stuff. Another great resource is Ballotpedia, which compiles all sorts of handy data.
Emily, make us proud: Vote. Maybe you’ll luck out and hit a polling place with free food!
1. Due to some strange quirk of rural zoning, we had two polling places right across from each other instead of just one. Given that the town had a population of about 500, that’s no mean feat. And yes, I absolutely did knock on doors to drag people to the polls if I thought our archrival was pulling ahead in the voter turnout race. Return
2. My dad is a sax player. My political priorities in 1992 were slightly less advanced than they are now. Return