Welcome to Ballot Barriers, Mic's weekly voting column for the 2020 election. Each week we'll explore the challenge of voting in an election year that's unlike any other.
Election seasons of yesteryear used to mean selfies with famous candidates, speeches to roaring crowds, and lots and lots of confetti. In the good old pre-COVID days, we’d hear about candidates’ platforms at in-person gatherings at local bars or restaurants. For phone banks at my home, I’d order food from my favorite Indian restaurant for volunteers. On Sundays, before we headed out to canvass voters’ homes, we’d munch on bagels and catch up over coffee before passing out canvassing lists. After a long day of volunteering, we’d head out for drinks. Back then, voter outreach was grueling work, but it was also great fun. At times, it even felt glamorous.
This election season is anything but normal. A global pandemic, coupled with a callous administration and the recent prediction that a surge in COVID-19 cases could coincide with the election, means that most of the tried and true in-person methods to get out the vote are no longer available to us.
As it turns out, though, some of the simplest actions we can take this year might be some of the most valuable.
When the pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring, voting organizations had to cancel or re-imagine in-person voter registration drives. As a result, the number of new voter registrations has plummeted. This likely hit eligible Gen Z voters the hardest — school closures in the spring put a stop to drives held on high school and college campuses, concerts, festivals, sporting events, and other places where young people tend to congregate.
The good news is that in the vast majority of states, voters can register online, in the comfort of their own homes. The key, then, is for folks to reach out to members of their communities, especially newly eligible voters, and help them get the information they need to register to vote. This can be done in myriad ways. Share the link to vote.gov on all of your social media channels and text it to friends and family; this website connects eligible voters to their state’s online voter registration portals. You can also download voter registration forms from the website from your state’s Secretary of State’s office, strap on a mask, and set up a table outside of a heavily trafficked public area (like a grocery store) and offer the forms to anyone who passes by. (They can pick up the forms themselves, making this a safer, touchless activity.) Increasing the number of registered voters these final weeks could greatly impact the outcome of this election.
Check your voter registration
Every so often, states decide to purge their voter rolls. What does this mean? They delete the voter registrations of people who are no longer eligible to vote, often because they have died or moved away. Between 2016 and 2018, 17 million voters were removed from the rolls in the U.S.
Here’s the problem: The voter roll purge process isn’t perfect. Bad data can result in the wrongful purge of voters on the rolls. (In Georgia, a recent report revealed that nearly 200,000 voters were wrongly removed in 2019.) And in states where the voter registration deadline has passed before voting has commenced, these voters won’t find out they’ve been purged until they attempt to vote, at which point it’s too late for them to fix the problem.
Leave nothing to chance this election. Make sure your voter registration is active at least once a week until you cast your vote. And if you’ve moved or changed your name, update your information on your voter registration as soon as possible. To find out how to do this in your particular state, go to vote.org or directly to your state’s Secretary of State’s office website.
Come up with a voting plan
This year’s general election will be one of the most contentious in U.S. history. Where, when, and how are you voting? The answers to these deceptively simple questions will help you exercise your right this election. In some states, voters can vote by mail, vote early in person, or vote in person on Nov. 3. Research all of your options and figure out a plan that makes the most sense to you. And don’t leave anything to chance. Come up with a Plan B, and even a Plan C.
For example: Let’s say you decide to vote by mail, but haven’t yet received your mail-in ballot yet. You can either contact your county election board to 1) figure out whether your mail-in ballot is on its way, or 2) if you feel you won’t receive your mail-in ballot in time, learn what steps you need to take to vote in-person, at your polling place, instead. And if you vote in-person, don’t forget to make arrangements now to take time off of work, figure out transportation, or arrange childcare.
And finally, if it is at all possible, vote before Nov. 3. Voting early, whether by mail or in person, gives you extra time, should you need it, to resolve any issues that may arise when you go to cast your ballot.
Form a voting accountability group
Create a text group with some of your friends and/or family members and share voting information. Pose questions. Do you know if your polling place has changed due to COVID-19? Are you going to vote during the week after work or on the weekend? Have you returned your mail-in ballot yet? The exchange of information is vital, and it has a domino effect. The more voters know, the more they share this information with others in their community.
These last few weeks before this election are crucial. Stay focused. We don’t need anything flashy or complicated to win at the polls in November. We just need to get out the vote, one vote at a time.
Anjali Enjeti is a poll worker in Fulton County, Georgia, who has reported on voting and voter suppression for a number of publications.