I had a bad suburban voting experience today, which left me shaking in anger and a little close to tears. Don't worry: I did get to cast my vote, and I’ve already reported this to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline.
I’m a new resident in Georgia, and I mailed my voter registration on the last possible day. Luckily, the state of Georgia has a website where you can double-check that your registration is active, even if you haven’t received your registration card in the mail. I also checked that I would need a photo ID, and since I haven’t gotten my Georgia license yet, I brought a piece of mail with my name and address. I was set.
I should probably mention at this point that I am a white 35-year-old female who looks a bit younger. I live in an affluent part of Atlanta. I am also a historian, and the right to vote is something I firmly believe we all should be actively exercising. Think about it: 6000 years of recorded history, and the idea that we all should get to vote for our leaders is terribly young--we can date it any many ways (no, not the Greeks), but let’s say no more than 200 years and in practice, a hell of a lot less than that.
All this to say--I didn't go in expecting a problem, and I take my right to cast a vote under the law pretty seriously. So when I arrived at my polling station today to be greeted with a “sorry, you aren’t in the system,” I was not going to walk away.
The volunteer who was supposed to hand me my ballot card told me repeatedly I wasn’t in the system and implied that I was trying to vote under my husband’s name. “There is only one person registered at this address, and he has already voted today,” he said while glaring at me. From his tone, I believe I was supposed to walk out at that point. I whipped out my cell phone and offered to show him the website; he told me to put it away, which, to be fair, is the law.
Eventually, he called over someone else, who confirmed I was not in the system, and this shaking of heads continued until another election worker remembered that I was on a “supplemental list.” As I verified my paperwork and walked over to the voting booth, the man who originally had tried to turn me away loudly mocked me in a high-pitched voice, “But I know I am in the system!” By this time I was shaking from anger and humiliation, and I turned back and said, “Excuse me for defending my right to vote.”
I know this hardly the worst thing that will happen today. I was able to vote, and I am not in Ohio or Florida. And in the long history of voter intimidation, this was pretty mild. But if I hadn’t been familiar with the law, been less persistent, or was just a tad more shy, I would have walked away today without voting. These laws that are supposedly protecting us from voter fraud are making the experience of entering the voting booth akin to running for cover amidst a barrage of bullets.
I’ve stopped shaking now. I am less upset, but I am a bit sad. Election ID and registration laws have turned volunteers into gatekeepers who subject their neighbors to a dressing down for imagined and slight trespasses. I hope everyone who is reading this will think about what the process of voting--truly a beautiful idea--should be like: a proud civic duty in which every citizen is encouraged to vote or a hassle where we all feel a little cheapened in the process?