Why I Didn't Vote

Why I Didn't Vote

A collection of essays exploring personal stories of voter disenfranchisement.

by Jonathan Smith; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Nov 1 2018, 7:14pm

According to the numbers, Americans are not super into voting. In 2016, like in 2012, only around 60 percent of the voting-age population cast a ballot, putting the US behind most developed countries when it comes to getting out the vote. There are of course many reasons for this lack of engagement. Voter apathy is certainly one of them, as well as a worry, especially among young people, about not being informed enough (which, by the way, is not a thing you should worry about). But many Americans want to vote, only to be prevented to by a wide variety of obstacles put in front of them by an indifferent and sometimes outright hostile system.

From restrictive voter ID laws to the purging of voter rolls to shrinking the early voting window to the inability of ex-felons to make their voices heard even after serving their time, there are countless ways states make it difficult for millions of their citizens to vote. And much more often than not these policies disproportionately affect minority groups, giving them the practical result of tilting the scales in favor of Republicans.

Most of the people who defend these prohibitive voter laws claim they are to safeguard the electoral process against voter fraud. But despite those worries, embraced and pushed by Donald Trump himself, voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. A 2007 study by the Brennan Center “found incident rates [of voter fraud] between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent,” and an investigation by the Washington Post identified just four cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election. Yet this hasn't stopped Republican politicians from using fraud as an excuse to push restrictive laws.

The system is deeply unfair and frustrating, but it’s easy to glaze over the stats and proposals for ever-more stringent voting requirements when you aren’t hearing the individual stories of the people who wanted to vote, but couldn’t. So ahead of next week’s midterms, we wanted to highlight a few people who have been unable to vote in the past (and one who won’t be able to vote on Tuesday) in an effort to put a face on the problem of voter suppression. In this series, called Why I Didn’t Vote, you’ll find personal essays from individuals who, for a variety of reasons, have faced structural barriers to the ballot box that have kept them from voting. Our hope is that these stories will help draw attention to the real-life impact America’s voting laws have on people who want to make their voices heard.

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