In 2008, I was one year and seven days shy of being able to vote. I spent my fall walking around malls and my high school hallways in Atlanta, Ga., registering voters, informing people about their voting rights and doing everything I could in the absence of casting my own ballot.
Four years later, I’m legally allowed to cast my first ballot in a presidential election. But I won’t be voting this year.
I’ve always been disgusted by people who don’t vote. I have seen them as lazy to my energized, passive to my active, and uninformed to my educated. This year, I am one of them, and I do not feel lazy, passive or uninformed. I feel cheated, robbed and stripped.
In October, my father sent a mail-in absentee ballot application to Fulton County in Georgia on my behalf. Between the two of us, we re-sent the form twice more, and I made several frustrating phone calls to my county registrar’s office. I was first told in October to “be patient,” then, on Nov. 2, that I must not have submitted the information properly. On Monday, Nov. 5, no one answered the phone.
I am not too lazy to bother. I have cared about politics since middle school. My political beliefs were born in Georgia, and the work I poured myself into in 2008 was in service of that community’s voice. But the state has left me without one.
I don’t know if the mail was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy, or if my father or I made a mistake so egregious that my request had to be discarded (this I doubt), or if someone didn’t pay enough attention, thinking it wouldn’t be such a big deal for just one envelope to slip through the cracks. I worry that a careless mistake was made. But I also worry that something much worse is at play — that Georgia, along with other states in this country, is engaging in active voter suppression.
I can’t know if someone maliciously disregarded my pleas. I have no face for the people who have robbed me: they are unknowns, and I’m the one left feeling like an idiot. I’m the one left thinking that I should have changed my registration to Connecticut this year or that I should have gone home over fall break and voted early or stormed the county courthouse to get the ballot myself. And maybe there’s more I could have done. But it shouldn’t be this hard. It’s my right.
I won’t be alone this year. Mistakes or deliberate campaigns will challenge millions of Americans’ right to vote. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School says it’s a problem with many faces. There are voter challenges, like the ones launched against Pennsylvania households with more than three or four children, accusing people of using a dead person’s name to vote or registering from a vacant lot. There is voter intimidation, like the stories my friends who canvass in Latin American communities in Connecticut have to share, or deceptive practices, like what happened in Georgia in 2000, 2004 and 2008, when voters were given misinformation about polling stations.
This year alone, there was the wave of controversial voter ID legislation, which will be implemented in six states Tuesday, including in Georgia. There is whatever chaos descended on Florida, as early voters were caught in the madness.
My completely unscientific polling — the Facebook status I posted Monday night in distress — suggests I’m not the only one. Students from Georgia, but also from Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Florida, Washington, D.C.: red and blue parts of the country alike didn’t get their ballots this year or in past years. Something is wrong across the country. Something is wrong with this supposedly representative process when human error or bureaucracy can take away someone’s right to vote — or when there is the space for something worse, something intentional to happen, for citizens to be systematically disenfranchised in so many ways and in so many places.
There is not such a big difference between whatever careless attitude likely robbed me of my ballot and those direct efforts to intimidate or deceive or cage away others’ votes. Both the mistakes and the malicious come from a place of laziness and disregard toward democracy.
I am scared that the state of politics in this country can hang on the poor management and bureaucracy of a few. I am scared that I am one of millions whose right to vote will be compromised this year because the electoral machine chews up individuals and spits out only a small percentage of the representation. I am furious that even as I write this, I know that my voice remains tiny. I am yelling at a Goliath that cannot hear me.
Sanjena Sathian is a senior in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This piece is part of the News’ Election Day Forum. Click here to read more.