With 20 days until the U.S. general election, people all over the country are making plans to cast their votes in the presidential and down-ballot races. Unfortunately, for many people, voting is not as simple as it sounds. Many are systematically disenfranchised by laws barring formerly incarcerated people from voting, voter ID laws, and racist voter suppression. However, there are other problems with voting this year beyond these more obvious issues.
Here are just a few examples of how this is affecting eligible constituents throughout the country: In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered counties to close drop-off sites for absentee voters until each county only had one drop-off location. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is still determining whether or not 130,000 voters should be purged from the voter rolls leading up to the election. SCOTUS made voting in South Carolina harder during COVID, requiring absentee voters to have another person sign their ballot as a witness, after a lower court deemed it an undue burden during the pandemic. Just yesterday in Virginia, registration was disabled statewide due to a cut cable on the last day constituents were able to sign up to vote before the election.
VICE spoke with eight people who’ve had trouble trying to vote this year for a variety of reasons. Here, they've offered their stories about the complications they faced and what they plan to do about their role in this year's election as a result of those setbacks.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.
jd quinitchette, 56, Durham, NC
After living in Durham for about a year, I ran into some financial issues at the end of 2019. I was working at a call center (raising funds for Democratic entities, who didn't pay me a living wage in my role) and partially paying for my apartment as my youngest son's fiduciary. When he and his father, with whom he was living with at the time, had a falling out, he needed money for himself. I was left without a choice. My $10.50 an hour couldn't pay for my $1,000 monthly rent.
I moved in with my college-age son. He graduated from North Carolina A&T in May. When his lease ended in July, I became homeless. He had to move in with his dad, where he is now. It's been pillar-to-post for me ever since. I haven't known what to do in order to vote, as I haven't been in one place long enough to register to vote there. I moved back to our hometown in August, but I lost what little I had left while there.
I've lived in four different places since the start of 2020. I'm currently on the other side of the city from where I'm registered to vote. Even now, back in Durham, I don't know if I'll be able to stay in the long-term hotel where I've been living for long enough to change my registration and vote from here. I've got about two days that I know I can pay for, then I'm out of pocket, for real.
Eviction is the simplest form of disenfranchisement. I truly believe that the eviction crisis is being exacerbated for precisely the reason of preventing people without stable housing from voting. I was evicted on primary voting day. I don't have many options. I may not be living here by the time I change my address. My option is to try and make my way to my old voting precinct, but I don't want to run the risk of not having my vote counted (or even being prosecuted).
Maddie Rose (they/them), 27, Philadelphia, PA
I applied for a mail-in ballot on September 10. On September 15, I got an email that my ballot was rejected due to a "duplicate application.” I was confused by this, as I hadn't applied before and had not asked to be automatically enrolled in a ballot for the general election during the primaries. I'm not sure whether I was actually already enrolled, or if there was an error.
I called the number listed on the ballot for people who have questions about their ballot application, which didn't and still doesn't work. The number rings for several minutes, then offers a "your number cannot be completed as dialed" message that leads to an automatic hangup. I just checked the number and it's still down.
I looked through some city websites to try to figure out if there was a different number I could call with election concerns and found nothing. I eventually took to Twitter asking if anyone else had the same problem. A few people suggested I may just have been automatically enrolled already after the primary election. I eventually decided to just give up and hope to receive a ballot in the mail, since there was no one I could contact to double-check the situation.
I did eventually get an email in early October telling me my ballot was on its way in the mail, though I haven't gotten it yet. I'm really concerned that other people might also be experiencing mail-in ballot rejections without a way to contact anyone to resolve it.
Honestly, I'm already repulsed at the idea of having to vote for Joe Biden, so it's hard to make myself sink my energy into hunting down city officials just to confirm that I am able to vote. I don't see any way this will be a fair or democratic election—on top of the voter suppression that is now pretty normal, people are experiencing all kinds of errors with mail-in ballots. If I do receive my mail-in ballot, I will vote.
Micha Crosson, 18, Miami, FL
I've filled out my voter registration form and sent it in four times now. Each time I've sent it in, I haven’t gotten my voter registration card back. The first time I sent it in, I called the registration office and heard nothing back. The second time, no response. After the third time, I called and was told they never received the registration form in the first place. On my fourth and final time trying, I still didn’t hear anything back. I was advised by the registration office on the third call not to drop it off in person because of the pandemic; they’re running on very limited staff, so I used USPS every time I sent in my voter registration.
The deadline for my state was October 5, but was extended to October 6. I still wasn’t able to solve it by that point. I can’t vote in person because my state doesn’t have same-day voter registration. I'm going to have to miss this election and try registering for future elections later on.
Nathalie Gedeon, 25, Charlotte, NC
When I checked my voter registration on my state's Board of Election website on September 29, nothing came up. I was confused, because I'd registered to vote months ago and had voted in the primary elections this spring. I checked an outside site, vote.org, and it confirmed that I was registered. I called the state board back, and they told me, "Oh, yes, it looks like we changed your name to 'Nat' for you on your file. We can change it back to Nathalie if you'd like." I was really surprised that they'd taken it upon themselves to simply change my name on my official voter registration file, and that they'd be so bold as to admit they had changed it on their own, unprompted.
The person I spoke to changed my name on the file back, but I guess my ballot with the incorrect name had already been sent out in the mail, as I received it a few days later. I called them again and explained the issue, and they told me that they would send me a new ballot in the mail with my correct name. Fingers crossed it arrives correctly and I can vote!
Charlene Walker, 41, Rahway, NJ
New Jersey has rightfully implemented vote by mail for all New Jerseyans. This is an issue I fought for by helping to write letters to the governor, holding a press conference, and advocating for moving drop boxes from police stations.
All of the tenants in my building received their absentee ballots on the same day, yet mine did not come. I contacted the Board of Elections on the phone, but didn't receive a reply. I finally received a postcard from the BOE stating that if I didn't return the postcard by October 13, "…then at any election held subsequent to that date on or before 11/9/2022 you may be required at the polls to affirm or confirm your address before you are permitted to vote. If you do not vote in an election during that period, your name will be removed from the registry of eligible voters. If you have changed residences from Union County to a different county in the state you must register with that county in order to retain your right to vote. If you have been automatically receiving mail in ballots, such mailings are now suspended."
After receiving this notice, I decided to check my voter registration status, and found that I am listed inactive. In the primary, I voted via a provisional ballot, as I did not receive my mail-in ballot, but assumed it was due to the delays in the mail system.
I’m taking my postcard directly to the BOE in the hopes that that will rectify the situation, and if not, I’ll register online. My plan is to educate my community about looking for the postcards and checking their own voter statuses if they did not receive a ballot in the mail. I'll risk going to the polls if I have to. I just survived COVID, and people around me are dying every day because of systems we are fighting to change. This election is all about setting the stage to organize for the changes our communities deserve.
Martha Wetzel, 32, Atlanta, GA
I moved apartments over the summer and tried to get a new driver's license with my updated address around June 17, and the state deactivated my voter registration after I requested my updated license. The DMV confirmed it was mailing the new license on June 20. It never arrived. I called The Department of Driver Services four times about my missing license, and, every time, got a message that there were too many calls, and to try again later. It’s supposed to be free to update your address on your license, but I gave up and paid the $5 for them to mail a replacement license. That arrived two weeks ago.
The last time I attempted voting by mail in Georgia was when Brian Kemp was elected. I requested the ballot several weeks ahead of time, the county mailed it six days before the election, it arrived the day before the election, and there was literally a giant cockroach in the mailbox on my ballot. In GA, you used to have to drop off your mail-in ballot at county headquarters, so that took me over an hour because traffic in Atlanta is a nightmare. After that, I decided I’d just vote in person. I was able to reactivate my registration when I got the replacement license.
This election is SO important, and I have an unpredictable chronic pain disease, so voting by mail is really much better for me, in case I can’t actually get out of bed on Election Day. But I’ve been wavering about whether to try and vote in person this election because USPS is so bad here, and I haven’t had issues at my specific polling place in the past in terms of lines (although they did have the doors locked once). For now, since Georgia has changed the rules about dropping off mail-in ballots, I plan to drop my vote-by-mail ballot off at the library to minimize the chance of the post office losing it.
Ariana D., 23, Los Angeles, CA
When I first registered to vote a few years ago while attending college on the East Coast, begrudgingly voting between two different white supremacist parties, I was unaware that it could make my private address and information public. In fact, I found a site that was unaffiliated with the state) that took pride in exposing all registered voters’ full name, party affiliation, and home address; they could find all of this information easily just by looking at voter registration logs. My name and address were listed, along with other personal information, right there for anyone to access.
The site radiated such Trump-ian energy: A lot of the information was typed out in stark red text, including parts of a disclaimer about how the site’s creators were legally permitted to disclose people's personal information. It also said that, if a person wanted their information removed from the site, it was an incredibly complicated, bureaucratic process without a guaranteed resolution.
At the time, I was deep in the throes of healing after completing a yearlong trauma-focused therapy program and felt too overwhelmed to take action toward having it removed. As a survivor and Black femme, I was afraid that my former home address had been made available via a Google search.
Leading up to the general election, I registered again in the state I moved to after college. I wanted to vote out of civic obligation amid a feeling of political futility. But when I received a letter from the BOE that my name wasn't written legibly and requesting confirmation of my name, I reconsidered how I felt about the possibility of my home address becoming publicly available again. I'd moved for many reasons, including for a deeper sense of safety, and I wanted to give myself time to weigh my choices. I made the choice not to register in order to protect my privacy.
I understand the power of voting on a local level, but, frankly, my ancestors and I are tired. Call it Afropessimism or political nihilism, but I'm making a choice to disengage on my terms to protect my own safety, and that, to me, feels personally and politically powerful.
Kathleen McKeveny, 26, Oakland, CA
I sent my voter registration application to the BOE in Alameda County. It was sent back to me with a Post-It note attached requesting that I re-sign the application because my signature was somehow ripped off in the mail. The application was folded into triads and in an envelope, so I have no idea how my signature could possibly have been the only portion of the paper affected by an accidental tear.
I sent back my registration immediately and haven’t gotten confirmation that it was received yet. I still have no idea if I’ve been properly registered or if I need to take more action. I am definitely going to vote, though: California has same-day registration in the absolute worst case scenario. This was just such a bizarre thing to have happened.
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