Voter Suppression is Real and I've Experienced It

When I turned eighteen last May, the thing that I was looking forward to the most about my newfound adulthood was gaining the right to vote. In November 2018, thousands of other college students and I had that right stripped away. This is my story.

It was on Friday, October 5th, 2018 when I made the request for my absentee ballot to be sent to Boston, Massachusetts from Broward County, Florida. I was participating in a voter registration event my dorm was hosting that day, even though I had been registered since my AP Government teacher made sure that each and every one of his eligible students were registered to vote. While I knew I could have made the ballot request from comfortably by myself in my own room, because it was my first time voting, I wanted to make sure I had everything right (plus a perk to attending the event was that they would pay for postage!).

The website was fairly confusing and it took some help from a couple of faculty members to ensure that we were doing everything correctly. Once I finished filling out the form, we mailed it off and I went about my everyday life, eventually forgetting about the whole thing. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when I noticed that my friends began to receive their absentee ballots that I began to wonder when mine would arrive. I decided to let a little bit of time pass before I let myself freak out. I tried to remind myself that Florida and Boston were far and that these things probably took time.

It was on the week of October 21, two weeks before election day, when I actually started to worry. After doing some research, I called the office of my county’s supervisor of elections, Brenda C. Snipes for the first time to inquire about the status of my ballot. They told me that my request to had been received and that my ballot would be sent soon.

A week went by, and there was no sign of my ballot, so I called again on Monday the 29th. They told me that my ballot had been sent out on Saturday the 27th  and that I needed to wait 5-7 business days to receive it.

So I was back to the waiting game. I waited. And waited. Aaaaand I waited some more until it was the weekend before the election and I STILL had not gotten my ballot. I was extremely frustrated and worried about my voting status.

It was the Saturday of the weekend before the election. I sat in a purple comfy chair, begging for guidance on what I could do in this situation. I sat in the lobby of my dorm room balancing my laptop on my lap as I called her office yet again. The man on the phone told me that I could have a family member pick up a ballot for me that Sunday from 9:00-10:00 AM and try to overnight it to me. Other than that, there was nothing else he could do. So on that Sunday, my dad went to the office ( which was an HOUR away) to get the ballot, even though he had work that day.

My dad was able to get it, but then he realized one crucial thing – the mail doesn’t deliver on Sundays so he would have to wait until Monday, meaning that I would not get my ballot on time. I was crushed when he told me.

“You did everything you could do,” he said as he tried to console me. While his words rang true, they provided little comfort. I was angry at myself, at the system, at the terrible way my case had been treated. I felt defeated.

I thought all hope had been lost until I received an email on Tuesday, November 6th saying that a package had been delivered. As soon as my lecture finished, I rushed to the mail room to find that my ballot had been finally delivered.

Rather than feeling content, I was still nervous it would not be counted. I called the office again explaining that the ballot I had ordered a month in advanced had arrived that day. Without missing a beat the woman responded with a dry tone, “ Ballots have to be on Mrs. Snipes’ desk by seven PM to be counted.” I sat baffled. How did she expect me to have my ballot delivered from Boston to Florida in less than twelve hours?

“So are you saying my vote won’t be counted?” I asked, feeling defeated once again.

“Ma’am I never said that I said it has to be on her desk at seven to be counted.”

“But I’m in Bost-”

“Well, you can try to overnight it.”

She then hung up.

After filling out my ballot as quickly as I could, I ran to the post office in the pouring rain. I shoved my ballot under my shirt, until I arrived, soaking wet, to the office. As I waited in line, observing the beige colored walls that surrounded me and watching the small puddle that was forming at my feet, I couldn’t help but feel bitter. When it was my turn in line, the woman told me it would cost thirty dollars to overnight my ballot. I was desperate and agreed. I impatiently watched the card reader turn blue and jammed my debit card in as quickly as I could.

I left the post office feeling as gloomy as the weather was around me. I knew that there was no chance that my ballot would get back to Florida in time. So I did something that any angry eighteen-year-old would do in this situation – I tweeted about it.

I was outraged. All I wanted was to perform my civic duty, but instead, my rights were stripped away.

I suspected that I wasn’t the only college student who experienced this type of voter suppression. So, I began to ask my peers about their experiences. I made an Instagram poll asking if other college students received their absentee ballots. Out of the 41 votes I received, 20 people voted no. I knew that I needed to find a way to share my experience on with voter suppression, but I wanted to go further and share the experience of others – and I knew that Her Campus was the best way to do it.  This prompted me to make another request on my Instagram story, asking people to share their stories with voter suppression for this very article.

Credit: Nicole Silvera 

What I got back were stories of friends from Florida, Wisconsin, California, and New York who told me that they too were left unable to vote in the election because they did not receive their absentee ballots in time.

Bonnie Lynch, from South Florida, told me about how she and her sister who go to school in Tallahassee never received their absentee ballots. “My parents were freaking out (because they obviously wanted us to vote & exercise our civic duty), and wanted us to come home — a 7-hour drive — to vote,” she said.

Luckily, they were able to change their residence addresses at the last minute and were actually able to vote at the civic center in Tallahassee.

Fernando Escalante, another South Florida native who goes to school in Baltimore, Maryland talked about how he had to make to separate ballot requests after finally receiving his the day before it was due, November fifth. “I felt that my vote was not going to count and that after years of waiting to vote I would come up short just because of lack of information, clarity, and mismanagement by the local election office.”

He followed up by saying, “I was even told 'why don’t you register to vote in Maryland?' by someone working inside the Broward County Board of Elections office. This made me feel like my vote was being suppressed and that this process of absentee voting was being made as difficult as possible for me to cast my vote and make my voice be heard.”

Bennet Smith-Worthington (who wanted me to put “Lord” in front of his name because apparently, he owns land in Britain. Sorry Ben, not happening) who is from Ozaukee county in Wisconsin said that despite ordering his ballot three weeks, early, he never received his ballot. When asked how this made him feel he said, “Frustrated that I wasn’t able to vote, but the results fit my voting pattern so slightly relieved.”

I knew how crucial this midterm was, especially in a swing state like Florida and I wanted nothing more than to have the opportunity to play a part in my nation’s political future. To be completely honest, it took a lot for me to write this article. It was something I had been wanting to share, but it was difficult for me to find the courage to sit down and acknowledge the injustice head-on. However, I felt as though it needed to be shared, as this is a conversation that must remain relevant. In the 2018 Midterm elections, thousands of votes submitted by mail were not counted, especially those of college students.

It is important that we as a country acknowledge that this is an issue that has not been left behind in history books, and is a problem that continues to plague our system of democracy to this day.

 

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