Leila Salim on Voting

Growing up, I always went to the polls with my parents on election day. I remember as a little girl, going to Mountain View Elementary near our house, waiting in line outside, then waiting in line in the school cafeteria, then walking up to the voting booths. They were these huge machines with curtains in front of them. I could see the legs of the voters inside. When it was our turn, my parents let me go in with them. They pulled the curtain closed, and it was like a blanket fort. Dark and secret, where my mom and dad pressed the buttons that lit up on the machines. As a kid there was an element of fun to it, but I also knew it was a big deal. A ritual they took very seriously. They would talk about it for weeks beforehand, and work out all their choices on a paper they’d bring into the booth with them. There was a weight of responsibility around it all. It was one of the things I understood was part of being a “grownup.”

But for my first election, I didn’t vote this way, because like many 18-year olds, I was away at college. There was no way I could fly home from Pennsylvania to New Mexico just for one day (and we didn’t even have that day off of class!)

Thankfully we have absentee voting for this very reason.

In a way I was a little sad to miss the ritual of it. (if I could vote at 16 that would’ve been a great rite of passage while I was still in school!)

But after a few elections voting in person, the weight of my duty remained, but the fun wore off quickly. Taking off work, waiting in line (often in the sun), and then once I get my ballot, most of the booths don’t have chairs (because I guess they think we don’t need that much time?) feeling rushed because of the line of people behind me, and worried that I might fill in the wrong bubble…

These are all unnecessary burdens that take away from the privilege and responsibility of voting.

If we’re really a democracy, then we need to hear from everyone. So voting shouldn’t be hard. It shouldn’t test your patience. It shouldn’t have to disrupt your work day, and once you’ve got your ballot in your hands, you shouldn’t feel rushed and worry you’ll make a mistake or forget something.

-Many people don’t know that you are legally allowed to take 2 hours off of work to vote. But even so, the line might take longer than 2 hours.

-If you’re a tipped worker, your boss might let you go, but you miss out on the tips you would’ve made.

-If, like me, you don’t have a car, the poll locations might be hard to get to with public transit or other means.

-If you’re disabled, the poll location might not be 100% accessible.

-If you don’t have easy access to the internet, it might be hard for you to find out where the polling locations even are, what hours they’re open, and see if you can match that with your work schedule.

-And now, of course, with the pandemic, it’s not safe to gather with large groups of people, especially indoors, and especially not all touching the same pens, tables, and chairs. The poll workers, who are usually retired folks, are the most vulnerable to the disease, and it’s unsafe for them to be in contact with hundreds of people.

These issues are ALL solved with vote-by-mail.

-When you vote by mail, you can take your time.

-You can read everything really carefully.

-You can bring your ballots to the dinner table and talk about it with your family.

-You can look up local candidates online, or read voter guides, and research ballot initiatives with your ballot beside you.

-You can check and double-check that you filled in the right bubble, without worrying about a line of people behind you.

-And you can be safe from this global pandemic by staying at home.

You just fill out your ballot at your leisure, seal it up, and drop it in the mail.

Now…… if you’re worried about the mail … because maybe the post office has been slower to deliver yours lately (or maybe the president is defunding it to cheat?), you can bring your sealed ballot to an early voting center anytime during the two weeks of early voting, or bring it on election day to a polling location, and drop it off in a drop box, or with a poll worker, without waiting in line.

And in New Mexico we have a really cool online system where we can log in and check to make sure that our ballot was received.

Can it get any easier than this?

(Honestly, yes it can. We could mail ballots to every registered voter, instead of having to apply for an absentee. It could be easier to register to vote. But these are issues for another time.)

This is a great way to vote. Older folks have known this for a long time. Many of them have been voting absentee for years. In the primary last June, most people voted absentee because we were in the peak of the pandemic. Even the Republican Party is sending out reminders to people to request an absentee ballot. Because they know that it’s the safer option right now, and no matter what the president says, they need to get their voters to turn out.

Mail-in elections have higher turnouts than in-person elections. And the turnout of young people, old people, and minorities is higher too. If we as a country believe in democracy by and for the people, we should care about hearing the voices of every citizen, so we need to break down every barrier there is to voting.

I hope someday we’ll have Universal Vote by Mail, but until then, I hope you’ll all request your absentee ballot, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Request your absentee ballot here: https://portal.sos.state.nm.us/OVR/WebPages/AbsenteeApplication.aspx?type=RA&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Read the next article in the series by Mary Ann Maestas: https://medium.com/@olenewmexico/mary-ann-maestas-on-voting-253857b52878?sk=9a5300a499f7c88e20dcb13f921dee7d

This article was written from a Facebook Live stream video OLÉ did awhile back. Feel free to visit and watch the whole video here: https://www.facebook.com/586402784803665/videos/671603016798529

OLÉ is a community organization, who uses grassroots organizing within the local community of working families in New Mexico.