Stuck in line to vote? Your state is probably trying to suppress your vote.
Here’s my story of how easy it can be to vote when your state has the right voting policies in place.
I’m a California voter set to permanent “vote by mail” status. I thought that those of you who are standing in line other states on Election Day might be interested in seeing more of how an awesome voting system really works.
To start the process, I get a “sample ballot and voter information pamphlet” a month before the election. This includes information about everything on the ballot, which is useful for researching ahead of time. Here’s what it looks like:
Yeah, that’s a lot of text! But only because it’s providing detailed information about everything on the ballot, including for/against statements by concerned parties. You don’t have to read the whole thing — just what you need more information about.
Here’s the sample ballot in the pamphlet, so you can get an exact picture of what you’ll need to do once the ballot arrives, and even practice:
A few weeks later — and a few weeks before Election Day, my ballot itself arrives. You can see it below next to the sample ballot pamphlet:
Inside my official ballot packet is a detailed instruction booklet in both English and Spanish, as well as an envelope to return my ballot, and each ballot card for my district. The instruction card even has a “I voted by mail” sticker on the top in the upper right-hand corner!
Here’s what the instructions look like:
And just like in the sample ballot pamphlet, here’s what my actual ballot cards look like:
Once I research the candidates and measures on the ballot, and then complete it, I tear off a stub from the top of each card. This stub has specific information about my ballot — it’s sort of like a receipt.
Then I fold the ballot cards and seal them into the yellow envelope and sign the outside of it, which is required to make my vote count. There’s also an option on the envelope that allows me to delegate the delivery of my envelope to a third party, in case I’m disabled or unable to get to somewhere to drop it off on Election Day. But — as you can see on the envelope — I can also just put some postage on it and drop it in the mail. It’ll be counted as long as it’s mailed by Election Day and received within three days after that.
I can return my ballot envelope to my polling place on the day of the election, all the way up to the time the location closes. Or, like I said above, I can put some postage on there and drop it in the mail. But I chose to return my ballot this past weekend to the secure box in front of my City Hall, which will accept ballots until 8pm on Election Day. Here’s what that drop box looks like:
Today, on the day of the election, I went the California Secretary of State website and was able to click through to my county’s site, where I entered my date of birth and driver's license number. It then showed me where I’m registered, my party, when I registered and whether I’m registered to vote by mail. Most importantly, it showed me that my ballot had been received!
Ballot counted, I proudly donned my sticker and headed off to work today!
So why does your state’s voting process suck so much? Why do people have to wait in line for hours?
It may be incompetence on the part of your local election officials, who decided to cut corners by setting too few voting locations.
But more likely, it’s Republican voter suppression.
Really! Don’t believe me? Search for “Republican voter suppression” on Google. Or check out these articles:
- Those Insane Early Voting Lines Were a Direct Result of Republican Voter Suppression
- CNN Panel Notes Long Lines On Election Day A Result Of GOP-Led Voter Suppression
- Long Lines at Polling Places a Result of Republican Voter Suppression Efforts
Here’s how to make it better
Call. Your. State. Legislators. No kidding, this really works! Calls are one of the most effective ways to actually get a legislator’s attention, especially state-level legislators who receive vastly fewer calls than members of Congress.
This nifty little tool will tell you who represents you in the state legislature, with their direct phone number. Go ahead and call! Even when a legislator disagrees with you, they’re usually quite friendly since they know that every vote counts. In state legislative elections, the margins can be quite thin — a few votes, even!
Once you have your legislator on the phone, here’s a script you can use to talk about this issue:
Hi, my name is [FIRST NAME] from [CITY]. I’m calling because I’m tired of the long lines at polling places on Election Day in our state. Other states have much simpler systems that allow voters to register easily, vote by mail, and vote early, to help avoid long lines and confusion. I’d like you to consider pushing our state to be more like California when it comes to ease of voting. What do you plan to do to help make that happen?
If your legislator starts talking about voter fraud, you can remind him or her that voter fraud is a myth. Here’s what you can say:
A study published in the Washington Post found just 31 instances of actual fraud between 2000 and 2014 when over 1 billion ballots were cast. We should be focusing on making it easier for everyone to vote, since voting is the cornerstone of our democracy.
If your legislator starts throwing a bunch of wonky excuses about why your state can’t use a simpler system, listen patiently and then say this:
Thank you for your time. I will do my own research on what you’ve just said and call you back again once I understand it better. I look forward to having future conversations about how you can make our voting system simpler.
Pretty easy! Just remember: I didn’t have to wait in line or take time off on Election Day to vote. If you and your friends start pushing your state legislators to do the same, you can enjoy the same.