Yes, I cast my ballot early – on the second day of early voting, Friday, October 24. I am a big fan of early voting, and love that we have that option in NC (not all states do). I do not work in the county I live in, so my voting on a weekday would have to take place at the very start or the very end of the work day; no running out on my lunch hour to vote (when lines might be shorter). And while I am fortunate to have a certain amount of flexibility on my job to come in a little late or leave a little early, I don’t have free “voting leave”. And that’s the situation for most workers around the country.
My preferred early voting times, therefore, are during weekend or evening hours. So I was a little nervous to see what the cuts to early voting hours mandated by the changes to NC’s election laws (HB589) passed last year would look like. With one week cut off of early voting and cuts to weekend voting hours (one Sunday has been cut, and Saturday and Sunday polls are open just a few hours each), it wasn’t looking promising. And while much media coverage was given to the “requirement” that the number of actual voting hours remain the same as the 2010 election, less was said about the fact that your county board of elections could vote to change that, for whatever reason they had (i.e., they could indicate there was evidence those hours weren’t needed). With cuts to early voting sites as well, particularly on college campuses, I was envisioning potentially longer lines at fewer places during a smaller window of early voting time – not a scenario that will encourage a robust turnout of voters. In all honesty, until we have a national holiday for elections, or hold elections on weekends, or automatically register all citizens to vote, we’re not really making it easy for voters to cast their ballots.
Because of these election law changes, NCWU’s 2nd VP, Tazra Mitchell, and I made a voting PSA that encouraged women to make a plan about voting this election – our message was “don’t leave it to chance, because you may then miss it”. We’re all pretty busy, and intentions don’t always match up with the day’s to-do list. Taking my own advice, I realized that since I had some time away from work this past Friday morning, I would stop by the polls to cast my vote. Arriving to the early voting site by 10:15am – past the campaign paraphernalia and signs that said “Early Voting Here” – I noticed there was already a short line. A line that was the result of the polling site not actually being open yet, something many of didn’t realize for a few minutes. Much grumbling and questioning ensued, until we were told this site’s hours are 11am – 7pm. This polling place was open after traditional work hours (good), and only for eight hours (reasonable…kind of…maybe…how was this fitting into the “you must have as many early voting hours in 2014 as 2010, while still having seven fewer actual voting days”, though?). Therefore, it opened later. I don’t think any of us in that line had considered that possibility. All we knew was that early voting had started, we chose this time to vote, and we had voted at this site in the past.
None of us were particularly happy with this development, because we were now looking at a 45 minute wait. I contemplated going to another site relatively nearby that I knew was open (I checked with poll workers), because I did have to get to work, a 30-minute drive away, by noon. The initial reason I had for choosing this site over that one is that parking is difficult at the other site, and involves paying for it, unlike the site I was currently at. As I mulled this over, the woman in front of me asked me if I would be fired if I got to work late. Fortunately, that was not the case for me, but it certainly can be for others. Figuring it could take me just as long to get to that other site, find parking and then stand in whatever line may be there, I decided to wait where I was and forget about any other errands I was also considering that morning. And my fellow voters also seemed to have that flexibility, fortunately (although I think one person did have to leave).
Once the polls opened (right at 11am), it didn’t take me long to get through the line, and I did get to work on time. But I thought about this error in planning I made, and how many of our new voting laws – from eliminating same-day registration, to cutting early voting hours, to cutting options for those who show up in the wrong precinct on election day – would really seek to punish simple errors by potentially taking away your vote. I am one who plans my time, but I am also quite busy and a bit overwhelmed with tasks sometimes. And despite the error I made Friday morning, I and others at this polling site did plan our time – we knew early voting had started and we knew this was a site that was open during the day, presumably when other sites were open. I didn’t check the schedule on-line prior to running out of the house to get to the polling place, which was an error on my part – but should I be punished for that mistake by potentially not being able to vote at all this election (my schedule was pretty tight the next week)? If we as a society are serious about creating a democracy for all, we’d make voting as easy as possible.
A European observer to our 2012 election jokingly said you need a college degree to vote in the US, because it all seemed so complicated. And with our patchwork of local, state and federal rules, it’s somewhat true. I was fortunate to be able to cast my vote early, leaving me to focus on other things in these final days of political ads and GOTVs campaigns. But when it comes down to it, we don’t make it real easy; it’s probably easier to get a new credit card (those applications are mailed right to you and “pre-approved”), and many have said it’s easier to get a firearm than register to vote. Priorities?
There is still – a little – time to early vote; it ends tomorrow (November 01) at 1pm. And if you miss that, you can still vote Election Day, November 04. Find polling sites and times here. Any problems/questions? Call 1.888.OUR.VOTE
See you at the polls!
Tara Romano, NCWU, President
(For now no ID is needed. But we’ll talk more about that potential requirement later, including how “no-fee” ID is a better way of saying it than “free”, because….not necessarily).