I was disenfranchised today, and I'm all burned up about it. Voter laws that differ state-to-state are ridiculous, and here is my story.
I ended up not being able to vote because I had no idea that voting laws were so completely different from state to state.
So we've lived in North Carolina for awhile. I didn't vote in the last general election (boo to me, I know), so I wanted to vote in this one, because I think A LOT rides on the outcome of this. I've only voted in Idaho and Minnesota, BOTH of which have same-day registration on election day. See here on this list from Huffpost, which I only found just now when I was searching for the WTF. Honestly, I had no idea that anywhere else was any different, because why would I? Two states the same, pattern established. To top it off, amidst worries that black voters had been told they couldn't vote, I even heard Pres. Obama's ad telling North Carolinians that we can register to vote and vote on the same day. So, I thought, I'm all set. Not totally sure if I'm registered, but I have my ID and I know where my polling place is and when it closes, and I'll be there to vote on November 8. Go me!
So I Showed Up at the Poll Just Now...
And I wasn't in the book with all the registered voters.
That didn't surprise me very much. But I clutched my ID and went to the "Help" station, where they did a search (on a database somewhere? no idea?) and they still didn't find me. Okay, so not registered. I still didn't think that was a very big deal, because I've done that before, right? See above.
I begin to hand over my ID to the really sweet lady who was helping me (and who was starting a provisional ballot for me, which I still don't know what that is), and a Very Stern Woman with "Chief Judge" on her badge comes over and says nope. In fact, she said "If you aren't registered you can't vote today."
And I have to take a minute to go, what? Really? I really cannot cast a vote. Really? So I pull out my big ammunition and say BUT I heard that ad with President Obama that said I could. And she said, "You could have registered and voted on the same day, but only until November 5 when early voting ended." And she starts to walk away.
"Early voting, what's that - wait, so I can't vote at all? I mean I seriously can't? But I want to!"
Yep. Totally told her I wanted to. Like that made a difference between me and everyone else in the room, who also clearly wanted to.
But the answer, it turns out, is that I couldn't vote today. I was turned away from casting my vote tonight, because you can't register and vote the same day here. Well, You COULD do, but only if you went somewhere and did that before November 5. And there are other states in which there IS no early voting (both of the other states I've voted in), and still others where you can vote early and still vote and register on the same day. So I COULD have voted for the President of the United States, but only if I still lived in Minnesota, or in Idaho.
And that right there, the fact that my rights to vote for the highest office in the nation actually vary depending on the state I live in, just doesn't seem right.
And you know what, maybe I hit the perfect voter storm because ID and MN are the same, and NC is completely different with regard to voting laws. In BOTH Idaho and Minnesota, I would have been just fine. In fact, in Minnesota I brought only my gas bill and I was just fine.
But Today I Could Not Cast My Vote.
Clearly Pres. Obama left the whole "you have to do this sometime before the actual day when you think you are supposed to do this," out of his commercial that I half-listened to a week or so ago. I probably heard the words "early voting" cast around while I was listening to NPR in my car while I went to get milk and bread. But why should I care about early voting? I care that I'm almost out of gas. That we don't have milk or bread in the house. I care that my kids have clothes to wear to school that are mostly clean and hole-free. I only have so much bandwidth for caring about things, and I can't research what I don't know I don't know.
I spend a really big proportion of my time online - connected within a few clicks to everything (I thought) that matters most. So maybe it's mostly shock that something that was SO OBVIOUS to everyone there at the polling place. How was I supposed to have known I had to? I was on my way to buy milk and bread.
And couple that with the fact that the NC voter laws changed just two years ago, and have been challenged in the Supreme Court, I can't be the only one confused and/or angry that I've been disenfranchised through no fault of my own. Check out this from a year ago via Huffpost.
And it's the idea that I surely can't be the ONLY ONE who didn't register before a magically made-up date beforehand that has me so worked up, I guess. Everyone there seemed all surprised at the possibility that anyone wouldn't already have known all along.
Yep. It's Partly My Responsibility
ALTHOUGH ONLY PARTLY.
Of course, probably a lot of people who will read this will say, "Well, you should have known, and if you didn't know you should have researched." And I say I absolutely should have. In a race where my vote counts probably more than it ever has, I should have paid better attention. As a Citizen of 'Merica I have a responsibility to research voting. To a certain extent, I did - I know where to vote and what day voting is, and even knew when the poll closed so I'd get there in time. Brought my ID, although took a chance and didn't bring my gas bill.
And then AT the poll I learned something that I didn't know I didn't know, that I maybe should have known, that if I had researched I could have known, that everyone at the polling place certainly thought I should have known, which I didn't know because based on my previous experiences in other states, I wouldn't have HAD to know. You know?
I guess the question would be what defines "avid research," right? And you know, as I've reviewed it in my mind, most people probably would have heard something about it by living their daily lives, right? But if I don't work with other locals (I don't), and I don't watch TV (I don't), and I don't read the web sites of any local news organizations (I don't), and I don't get a North Carolina newspaper (I don't), and I'm not on any political-type email lists (I'm not), I wouldn't even have a way to know. Does that make me a minority?
The Biggest Question of All
Why are voter laws for federal elections different in every state?
So why in the ever-living HECK are the rules for voting in a FEDERAL ELECTION so different from state to state? I move, and suddenly boom. Unless I am part of some specific stream of information (which I am clearly not a part of), I can't vote. My right has been taken from me through no fault of my own. And how can it surprise so many people that I didn't know? That's what the fight over the NC voter laws was about, and which party was trying to steal votes from whom, when it SHOULD have been about the fact that confusing state voting laws are responsible for disenfranchising anyone who moves states and doesn't do a lot of research. Because, they shrug, "People just ought to know." That was the attitude at my polling place, anyway.
For elections that affect the whole nation, the United States needs ONE set of federal-level voter laws. Frankly, I'm astonished that this isn't already the case here in 'Merica. I think it's fine if a state wants to choose its own methods for electing governor or statewide offices, although I don't see why ANY voter laws, except those at the most local levels of government, can't be the same no matter where you live. We move around a lot in this country. Much more often than we did even a generation ago.
If you have some insight in this, some history or precedent or backstory that will help enlighten me, I'll be right here, ok? I really would love to know. Meantime, I'll be watching the election results and wishing my vote counted.