My First Time Voting

I have been a long time American history and government aficionado, (Leslie Knope is my true soul sister,) so you can only imagine how excited I was to be able to cast my ballot on November 6th in this vital midterm election. I was originally supposed to cast my first vote in the September New York Primaries and was devastated when I was turned down at the polls. When I first registered to vote in my AP Government class, I was just coming into my political identity and decided not to register for a party just yet.

 

I knew that 2018 was going to be a big year, so I began researching voting procedures and registration dates in February when I had a sure idea of who I was voting for. The New York State Voter Registration website is not the easiest to navigate, and after careful pursuing, I found the party registration due date. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear that this date only applied to people who were registering to vote for the first time, at the same time that they were registering for their party. If you want to register for a party as an already registered voter (even if you've never registered for a party prior,) you must send in your party registration form about a year early. I’m still not entirely sure of the date that mine should have been in by because after being sent away, I did research and still couldn’t find an answer from an official source. Additionally, I was sent a card over the summer that said I could vote in both September and November, so I was completely stunned by this entire process. I voiced all of this to the people working at the table at my polling place, and they did all that they could to ensure there were no errors; they even called someone at the State Office, only to be told that my party registration wouldn’t become official until early 2019. It was a sad day for sure, as I was super passionate about the candidate that I was going in to vote for. But, I was even more upset about the lack of clarity in this process, because I am a girl that does my research. I am including this story in hopes that it will help someone else. Make sure that you are registering at the right time. In a country where voter suppression runs rampant, you have to take charge! The government doesn't want it to be easy for you; make sure you get your answers. Lastly, New York has been known to have one of the most backward voting systems in the country, and my own experience can definitely confirm this. After a devastating first experience, I am looking into ways to educate voters on the registration process, as well as a way to encourage voter reform in Albany. (Stay tuned!)

 

Fast forward two months to take two of my first time voting. Midterm elections. If you are even the slightest bit involved, you know that these were a big deal. I researched all of my candidates using the excellent website from the minds behind Pod Save America, called Vote Save America. I actually have to give a shoutout to Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron in Mean Girls for all my fellow musical theater nerds,) for introducing me to this resource, because it was instrumental in my voting preparation. With an option to create your own personalized ballot prior to the election, and a database of information for all of your candidates, the website ensures that education is simple. This essentially ensures that people will go vote, because we, as humans are lazy. Instead of having to research each candidate individually, the website compiles a ballot and information for you based on your address in a clear and easy to navigate format. I printed out my ballot after making my selections and brought it with me to the polls.

 

The sheer number of people committed to spreading information and encouraging people to be involved is what was most memorable about this election to me. It felt like we were building our own army to uphold American values, which was a really special thing to be a part of. Broadway actors like Erika, along with other prominent figures, from Ava DuVernay to Lin Manuel Miranda were committed to spreading the word about this important election, (and our civic responsibility,) and it was so nice to see people acknowledge their privileged positioning in the world and use that for good. Even my own friends would bring up their voting plans, and we engaged in countless conversations about this election. Social media was a very positive place in the days and weeks leading up to this election, and I was happy to see so many young people getting involved. There are always some stragglers, but I belong to a generation of people who see the world through empathetic eyes and truly care about making their voice count.

 

Election Day was met with great anticipation and a lot of excitement. Given my busy schedule, I decided in advance that I would vote at around 7 pm, and having to wait all day almost killed me. I couldn’t wait to get home and run to the polls. As excited as I was, I had some underlying anxiety as well, because even though every voice is important, I knew that there was nothing that I could personally do to take back the House. My district had one Democrat running unopposed. New York almost always goes blue, across the board. For anything important to happen, I had to place my faith in places where I could not vote and people that I did not know. Elections really embody the idea of placing blind faith in humanity, and this abstract idea would be illuminated through numbers in just a few hours.

 

After a long day, I arrived at the polls with my mom, who of course snapped a lot of pictures, as moms do (although it was met with no objection from me this time.) As we were walking in, I turned to my mom and said, “I am more nervous then I have ever been for any test or audition.” This was the first time that I was doing something that had such a clear impact on the world at large. In this moment, I was especially grateful to be clutching my plan of action, because I got so overwhelmed and nervous, and would have likely made a mistake if I wasn’t prepared. After a stressful few minutes (my mom voted much faster,) I submitted my ballot and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I got my very first “I Voted” sticker, and walked out triumphantly.

 

I am so grateful that this was my first election. I felt that there was a greater sense of urgency than ever before to get to the polls, and I was so glad to finally not be legally obligated to sit on the sidelines. After almost two years of being completely disillusioned with our government, I got to do something about it, and that was such a powerful feeling. Democracy is our own personal responsibility to maintain, which I know after years of memorizing the words of our founding fathers (self-admitted nerd,) and to finally be able to act on this was a great feeling. It was so easy, too; there is no reason to not vote! I am so proud of everyone who went to vote; I am so proud of the results. I stayed up way past my self-imposed bedtime because there was no way to sleep at a time like this! While there were a few sad defeats, words cannot describe the joy I felt upon the historic announcements that came in. When seeing that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won, I thought I would burst with pride. As a long time follower of her campaign, she’s become a regular on my Instagram feed, and she did it! It was an amazing night, and the results felt different this time because I was a part of this process too.

 

My favorite tweet of the night was from Ava DuVernay. She said, “Democrats flipped the house w/ historic wins by women + people of color, some slashing decades-long red strongholds. And 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people have regained the right to vote. Despite gerrymandering + suppression. Something powerful has happened. Believe that.” And WE did that. What a great day for democracy!