Monday, November 7, 2016

The Importance and Struggles of Voting

An Opinion Piece from Hub SPEA Service Corps Fellow, Kirby Jewell
For the last couple of weeks, our team at the Hub has been advocating for our patrons and community members to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, get informed on the candidates and issues, and ultimately vote in the upcoming General Election. We believe voting is essential to creating the systemic change that eliminates food insecurity and poverty. While raising awareness is a great way to begin, we cannot make lasting and meaningful changes to break the cycle of poverty without legislative action. Our voter registration push was the first step, and we are inspired that so many people have shown an interest in these efforts so far.
While at the Hub many preach the importance of voting, we also acknowledge that there are many barriers to voting, and that many feel disempowered by the current political system.  From finding information on candidates, understanding what the different positions are, figuring out where you vote, or just getting an idea of what you have to physically bring with you to the polls in order to prove your identity, the entire process can be overwhelming. These problems inevitably dissuade many people from going through the process in the first place. But these issues exist for a reason and that reason is to keep folks experiencing poverty from showing up and voting their interests. By suppressing the vote of those who are often voiceless, officials are able to maintain the status quo. Justifiably, this reality makes many feel powerless, and thus less likely to make the effort to vote.
I was faced with a situation recently that tested how much I was willing to push to have my voice heard in the General Election. I experienced firsthand the attempts that government officials make to deter people from voting - the same attempts that subconsciously urge voters to not put in the effort and forgo voting. I have no doubt that officials at my local Board of Elections were trying to suppress my vote, first by “misplacing” my absentee ballot, and then by reissuing my ballot to the wrong address 5 hours in Ohio away from my home in Bloomington. My faith in the system was shaken as a result of this ordeal, and I made sure to write to my Secretary of State twice to ensure that he was going to act on the matter.
But on my drive back to Bloomington after I had finally cast my ballot, I was left wondering how many people out there, faced with the same dilemma as me, simply gave up. I will readily admit that I am not the typical voter, and that I may be one of the few people left who gets genuinely excited when election season rolls around. I am a rare case, which means that if people were facing the same problem as me, maybe they would just “hope for the best” and see if their ballot shows up before the 8th, which was the advice given to me when I called the Board of Elections. Even though I was not going to let anything stop me from voting, there were times when I really wanted to give up, and I questioned whether or not all of this effort was worth it. But I always came to the same conclusion: it absolutely was.
The election system is difficult enough to navigate, and there are barriers at every step to deter people from voting. These barriers are amplified for those who are faced with issues like food insecurity and poverty, because those are the people who, if empowered, can force the systemic change our system so desperately needs. My hope is that your takeaway from this is that you must keep pushing to have your voice heard, and voting is an important step in accomplishing that goal. Maintaining the status quo is what many elected officials strive for, and they do this through making the process burdensome and complex, and sometimes through outright voter suppression. While this realization may cause people to lose all faith in the system, it only reaffirmed my belief that this fight to have our voices heard is worth it. Once I recognized that resigning to my fate of not being able to vote is exactly what was expected of me, I knew what I had to do. If you are registered to vote but have not decided whether you will head out on Election Day, just remember that our fight to change this broken system can only begin with your defying act - so vote!

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