The matriarchs of my family have always treated voting as a sacred ritual. Not a single election went by during my childhood that my mother did not bring me to the polls to watch her vote. Whether that meant waking up before the sun to drive to our nearest polling place so she could cast her vote before she dropped me off for school, or being among the last voters in line, exhausted after a long day’s work, quelling an inconsolable tween whose primary concern was whether we’d be going to Burger King after, my mother always upheld her civic duty to vote. And she always made sure that I, her only daughter, was present to watch.
See, to my mom, a child of the civil rights movement, born in the 1950s, voting was a privilege. It was the be-all and end-all. It was a right that had been legally and systematically withheld from Black people—Black women—for so long, she felt it would be nothing short of a slap in the face to her ancestors to voluntarily deny that privilege. My grandmother, born in the 1920s, felt the same. After all, her great-grandparents had been slaves, hardly able to visualize the prospect of freedom, let alone the ability to exercise the right to vote—a power that was historically reserved for white male property owners. It simply was not an option for my mother or grandmother to choose to forfeit their voting rights given the historical gravity and laborious terms surrounding the acquisition of universal suffrage.
Our family’s voting ritual culminated in 2008, when my grandmother, mother, and I went to the small church two blocks away from my grandmother’s house, which doubled as a polling station, to cast their votes for Barack Obama. The act was monumental at the baseline because two Black women were exercising their rights to vote, a radical act that the founders of the Constitution never intended. But that day was made infinitely more significant because two Black women were voting for a Black man, who would, of course, become the 44th President of the United States. (The day was significant for me because I got to go to Burger King after.)
The generations that preceded me rightly held voting to such a high standard because they directly had ties to a world where Black enfranchisement wasn’t the norm. My generation, on the other hand, is significantly more disillusioned. While we are keenly aware of our history and the struggle endured to acquire the universal right to vote, we also are able to see the cracks beneath the surface. The radical injustices associated with a system that proclaims itself as just. If my mother and grandmother’s generations saw the right to vote as the be-all and end-all, the almighty Oz, my generation’s unique gaze beholds Oz as just a man—and he’s white, self-interested, and a master puppeteer.
It’s no secret that the relationship between voting and Black America is a long, complicated one. From its inception and for almost the first 100 years of American history, Black people were denied the right to vote—simply because they were not white, not property owners, and not regarded legally as a full person. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, technically granted Black (men) the right to vote, however many southern states utilized a plethora of tactics to prevent them from actually being able to do so. Literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, and grandfather clauses were among the many strategies employed to promote Black disenfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to rectify these unjust practices, as it was the first piece of legislation to formally prohibit racial discrimination in voting. But still, racist officials and lawmakers found loopholes within the system to prevent Black people from exercising their voting rights. The creation of voter ID laws, the illegitimate closing of polling places, and the reduction of early voting rights are all ways in which voter suppression still, to this day, plagues the Black community. So while the triumphs of acquiring Black enfranchisement were at the top of mind for my mother and grandmother’s generations, the somber realities of discriminatory disenfranchisement practices are jarring truths that mar my generation’s outlook on the subject of the vote.
I want to be very clear: I am a Black woman and I will be voting in November. And, at the risk of sounding like an episode of Schoolhouse Rock, you absolutely should too. Maybe it’s naïveté, or maybe my mother and grandmother’s voting had tremendous lasting power, but I am of the unwavering opinion that if you can vote, you must. And if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. No, not because our ancestors fought for this right (I do not believe in guilting people to vote), but because far too much is at stake to deny ourselves this right. In the words of Aubrey Stone, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce, “We cannot expect to win with every vote, but if we don’t vote, we can certainly expect to lose.”
I’ll admit, it is exhausting to vote in a political system where your community is not only underserved, but systemically under attack. Almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, the racial wealth gap suggests Black men still earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Almost 66 years after Brown v. Board of Education, racial inequality in our education system still persists as Black students graduate at drastically lower rates than white students, and are more likely to be expelled, less likely to be invited into gifted student programs, and more likely to be overlooked by teachers. According to the Bureau of Justice, 1 in every 4 Black men is likely to go to prison, whereas 1 in every 23 white men is projected to serve time in prison. Black women who give birth in hospitals that primarily serve Black communities are far more likely to have serious health complications than women who give birth in “white-serving” communities. And as we all were reminded this year after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, even though Black people account for less than 13% of the American population, they are still twice as likely to be shot and killed by the police. The system is downright abhorrent for Black Americans. But the answer isn’t for us to not vote. The answer isn’t to self-serve defeat because defeat is expected. I can’t recall any victorious historical movement that was achieved through the passive act of surrender.
The truth is, while suffrage isn’t the all-powerful Oz that my mother and grandmother once proclaimed it to be, voting is a tool that has considerable power and influence in drastically improving our daily living standards. In the upcoming November election, specifically, we’re voting in the hopes of increasing the federal minimum wage, ending the cash bail system, restoring the Voting Rights Act (which was compromised by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013), and increasing federal funding for public schools. For minorities, in particular, we’re voting to reinstate DACA, advance the enactment of the LGBTQIA Equality Act, rescind the Muslim-targeted travel ban, and decriminalize marijuana. Access to affordable healthcare, tuition free college, and investment in climate change programs are also all among the many political initiatives that will ultimately be decided by your vote.
And yes, I do specifically mean your vote. I’m cringing at the children’s television-level soapbox I’ve unintentionally found myself standing on, but your vote sincerely does matter. Every vote does. Overwhelming data shows just how many elections have been decided by a mere handful of voters. In 1991, a House seat in Virginia was determined by one single vote. In 2002, a GOP House primary in the state of Washington was decided by just one vote. George W. Bush infamously won the deciding state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election by roughly 500 votes. And, of course, in 2016, Donald Trump secured the presidency by winning just enough votes to secure the Electoral College. Roughly 43% of eligible voters did not turnout to the polls in 2016. And for that, we are paying dearly.
The presidential election next month is one of momentous importance because we are quite literally voting for our lives. And again, if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. A considerable amount of voter apathy comes from the erroneous and, quite frankly, dangerous idea that a Biden Presidency would be just as bad as a Trump Presidency. And while it is absolutely correct that Biden’s political record is not squeaky clean when it comes to his previous political platforms that affected the Black community (i.e. The 1994 Crime Bill and his former anti-busing stance), it is paramount to affirm that re-electing Trump for a second term (either actively by voting for him or passively by choosing not to vote) would be far more damning to Black America than electing Biden. Neither candidate provides the prospect for a perfect presidency, but one candidate refuses to denounce white supremacy, which freely and directly puts Black America under siege. If the leader of the free world cannot merely condemn the malignant threat and oldest form of racism that has plagued our nation, the floodgates of unbridled bigotry will be jolted open and a second-term presidency would terrorize our worlds in unfathomable ways. As Sonya Renee Taylor so poignantly directs, “vote like you are picking the enemy you want to fight.” Be clear that we would all be better off fighting the enemy whose political record is considerably tainted, than the enemy who wholly rejects the validity of our existence.
No, voting is not the ultimate answer to all of the injustices that plague the Black community. Only a complete and total societal reckoning can even begin to tackle that monumental feat. But voting is an essential step that can be utilized to affect necessary and transformative change. Your vote has tremendous power; you simply must use it forcefully and strategically. But we mustn’t stop our work after we’ve cast our votes at the polls. My mother and grandmother were correct that voting is paramount, but they were wrong about it being the be-all and end-all. We must vote in November, and continue our civic engagement in other proactive ways. We must vote in November, and continue to protest—since the protests that ensued after George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis, D.C., Chicago, and Denver have banned the use of chokeholds and many city governments have removed public sightings of Confederate monuments. We must vote in November, and hold our representatives accountable—in 2006 an immigration reform bill that would increase fines and prison sentences for undocumented immigrants was not enacted because of a successful citizen uprising in the Latinx community. We must vote in November, and continue to act. Voting is merely a single action item, on the thousand-page to-do list of “how to fix America.” But it’s a critical step, nonetheless.
Image: Element5 Digital / Unsplash
It will be super-crowded, there will be too many guys with deluded self-confidence, and you have a headache just thinking about it. No, I’m not talking about a Halloween frat party, I’m talking about the 2020 Presidential Primary.
Here’s the deal. We all have at least a few brain cells left, so we already know that if people don’t vote in this election, it could be the end of the world as we know it. No pressure or anything. However, college students have historically had low turnout rates, and it’s not just because we’re lazy! There are just a few more hoops to jump through that can make the process pretty complicated.
And, like, I get it. Voting, especially if you go to school out of state, can be even harder than waking up for your Friday morning 8am. It’s almost like certain people don’t want young, progressive students to have a say in democracy, but that’d be crazy! Right?
Think of this article as the “How to Vote” equivalent to a study guide the girl with 1,000 colored highlighters makes a whole two weeks in advance before an exam. It has all the answers and will either put you at ease or stress you the f*ck out.
Should I Already Know Who I’m Voting For?
Not at all. That would be like committing to a boy the first few weeks of freshman year just because he called you an Uber once. The candidates still have a lot of room to impress/disappoint us, and you might not know many of the differences between their policies. However, now is the time to follow all of them on Twitter, watch the debates if you haven’t yet, and pay attention when you see them in the news.
If you don’t even know where to start learning about the candidates, head over to The SUP newsletter and podcast (but only after you finish reading this).
What About The Party I Want To Support?
I know this is supposed to be a judgment-free zone, so I guess it’s okay if you aren’t sure which party you want to affiliate with. But like…reeeally!?
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By now you’ve probably heard that a Special Operations forces raid resulted in the death of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The world is undoubtedly a safer place because he is dead. What you might not have heard is that the mission was hustled along after Trump’s sudden announcement this month that he would withdraw American troops from northern Syria. The withdrawal “disrupted the meticulous planning underway and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared with the pullout,” the New York Times reported after speaking with officials familiar with the matter. The mission was a success largely with the help of Kurdish forces in the area, who assisted the U.S. (helped us figure out where exactly al-Baghdadi was, had their own spies keep an eye on him) even after we betrayed them by stepping aside to allow a Turkish offensive. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Sunday: “The irony of the successful operation against al-Baghdadi is that it could not have happened without U.S. forces on the ground that have been pulled out, help from Syrian Kurds who have been betrayed, and support of a U.S. intelligence community that has so often been disparaged.”
In some states, you can wait until election day to pick a party. However, many states have what is called a closed primary, which means you have to declare your party affiliation when you register to vote. Do some research to find out if you live in one of those places before it’s too late and you miss your chance to vote in the primary.
Wait… Do I Have To Register To Vote?
Maybe you slept through your high school government class and missed this, but yes, yes you do. You have to register to vote in *almost* every state. The standards and rules for registration are different depending on where you live, so it’s important that you’re looking at the right stuff. If you don’t remember whether you’re registered or not, don’t freak out, you can check and/or register here. Alternately, if you need more information about the rules in your state, check them out here.
I Go To College Out Of State, Where Am I Registered?
You can only vote in one state, but as long as you have a permanent or temporary address in your state of choice, you are qualified to register. While this might seem like a trivial choice, the state you pick might make a huge difference.
I’m from Ohio (which is a swing state), but I go to school in Louisiana (which almost always votes red—aka for the GOP). My vote will probably carry more weight in Ohio, so that’s where I am registered. If you’re conflicted, do some research on voting patterns in your states. Make an educated choice based on where you think your vote has the biggest impact!
OK, I’m Registered. How Do I Download My Ballot?
Warning: this is where sh*t starts to get complicated, but take a deep breath, we’re going to get through this together.
If you’re voting in your home state, but go to school out-of-state, you probably plan on voting through an absentee ballot. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as just downloading a ballot and emailing it to your state’s election office. There are pretty hard deadlines for voting with an absentee ballot, and you can’t treat this like a psych essay you write the night before it’s due. Follow my advice and do it ASAP, so there are no complications.
Once your application is completed, you should be all set and should receive your absentee ballot before the election. However, if you have any reason to doubt that your application went through, most states allow you to check the status of your application online.
What Do I Do If My Ballot Doesn’t Come On Time?
You would think there is a pretty slim chance of this happening, but conveniently last election cycle, every single one of my liberal friends voting via absentee ballot in Georgia mysteriously did not get their ballots in time to vote. So weird how that happens! Even if it does happen, you don’t have to freak out. Go to your local polling station and ask for a provisional ballot. They are required to give you one by law, even if you are in a different state from the one for which you’re voting. Then, go on your state’s website to find out how to confirm that your ballot will be counted.
I Got My Ballot And Filled It Out, How Do I Mail It In?
I once saw a completed in absentee ballot just sitting on a desk in someone’s room like three weeks after the election. No joke. They went through the trouble of registering, applying for the ballot, researching the candidates, AND filling it out only to give up because they couldn’t find a stamp. And, like, to an extent, I get it. Sending mail is really f*cking hard and archaic.
The plight of being unable to find stamps on campus is well-documented on the internet. Sources like ABC, Business Insider, and lots of campus newsletters reference college-aged voters who don’t vote due to a lack of stamps.
Ideally, you’ll be able to find stamps for free around campus. At many schools, Greek and other campus organizations will provide them during election season. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. But also, CVS sells stamps; it’s really not that serious.
Here are some things you need to know:
- Like everything else, you can buy stamps online! Stamps.com allows you to purchase and print out postage for your ballot. You can also try Amazon.
- Your absentee ballot will come with an official envelope you must use to return the ballot. Do not lose this.
- The USPS is required by law to mail absentee ballots even if they don’t have stamps on them. While I don’t necessarily encourage not using a stamp, this is a great last resort. We shouldn’t have to pay a whole 50 cents (is that how much stamps cost?) for our votes to count!
Hopefully, this is all the information you need to successfully vote in college. However, if you’re ever unsure of something, vote.org has easy to understand resources and instructions.
I know this seems really complicated, you have a lot going on, and Mercury is about to be in retrograde, but this election really is a big one. Especially for young voters. According to an essay published by the Pew Research Center, 37% of the electorate will be Millennials and members of Gen-Z. It’s crazy to think about, but the future of democracy is basically in the hands of the same people who ate f*cking Tide Pods and spent $65 on Kylie Jenner’s Rise and Shine hoodies.
That said, go register to f*cking vote. It’s your civic duty.
Images: Element 5 Digital / Unsplash, Giphy (2)