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If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Nothing is more American than the right to vote. Every few years, citizens travel in droves to their local polling areas to cast ballots that can change the United States. It’s one of the most basic rights of being a citizen, and yet voting is made very difficult around the country, especially in the South.

Alabama is one of the most restrictive states. Votes can only be cast in person on Election Day unless the voter has an approved excuse to vote absentee. For example, if a voter is ill or has a disability that prevents a trip to the polling place or a voter works a required shift of 10 hours or more that coincides with polling hours.

In Mississippi, voters need a photo ID and an approved excuse to vote absentee. No early voting is offered.

Here in Georgia, a photo ID is required. There is an early voting period of two weeks and no excuse is necessary to vote absentee. Yet voting is still a struggle.

It might be easier to vote in Georgia than Alabama but it’s still a struggle, and let me explain how.

On Oct. 15, news of hundreds of Gwinnett County absentee ballots being tossed out splashed across every news outlet. As The Atlantic reported back in 2015, Gwinnett County is one of the most diverse counties in the Southeast — in the 2016 election it was one of the few counties to turn blue. 51 percent of Gwinnett’s vote went to Hillary Clinton over just 45.2 percent of the vote going to Donald Trump. The county rejected 390 absentee ballots through Sunday, which represents 8.5 percent of all mailed ballots received in Gwinnett so far. Gwinnett accounts for about 37 percent of all rejected ballots in Georgia.

When questioned on why a disproportionate number of absentee ballots were rejected, Gwinnett county officials had no explanation, yet they cited no wrongdoing.

County spokesman Joe Sorenson said, “I can’t draw any conclusions. I just know that we’re doing this according to state law.”

That’s the county’s way of having their cake and eating it too. They want to have it both ways but it’s unethical.

A majority of Americans across both party lines are upset over how the country is being run: Healthcare is in jeopardy, Donald Trump is in the news every other day ranting about immigrants crossing illegally into our borders and Kavanagh’s laughable journey into the highest court in the land are just a few of the major issues sparking a flame under voters this midterm election. So it’s no surprise that a historical turnout of “non-voters,” or people who didn’t vote four years ago, are registering to vote now.

After singer Taylor Swift encouraged her Tennessee fans to vote, 65,000 registrations poured in in a single 24-hour period.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” Swift said. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”

Less than half of all eligible voters usually vote during midterm elections. It’s assumed that low voter turnout is because Americans are lazy and apathetic or simply just don’t want to vote. This is a horrible misconception. Americans want to vote, right now, so many can’t wait to vote.

As wonderful as that sounds, the system makes it so difficult to vote.

Let’s talk about the different types of voter profiles and the unique struggles they each face: students, working parents, voters without ID and convicted felons.

STUDENTS

As students of Georgia State, we are nearing the end of the fall semester as Election Day draws closer. Some students have chosen to vote early because, while they live on campus, they are not registered to vote in Fulton County so they have to take time out to return home and vote. A state ID is required to vote but a small number of students don’t have a driver’s license. Out-of-state students might not have an in-state ID required by law to vote. In light of all this, I hope college students who were unable to vote during the 2016 election will vote during this 2018 midterm. Visit BestColleges.com for more information and resources on how to vote in college.

WORKING PARENTS

Just because you’ve registered and prepared the proper forms of identification doesn’t mean there will not be obstacles to overcome. Parents with full-time jobs can’t always afford to take unpaid time off to vote. They may want to but simply can’t afford to in the long run. Employers are not required to pay employees for time off in less than half the states in the country. A Pew Research Center survey stated that among registered voters, two-thirds gave reasons related to lack of time, and 35 percent were from work or school conflicts.

VOTERS WITHOUT ID

There are federal laws in place that say first-time voters who do not supply information that can be verified against a state or government database must show some other form of ID to vote. This information varies depending on what state you’re in. Some states require all voters to have a photo ID; others will allow you to vote with an official form of documentation like a utility bill, bank statement or something showing your name and a current address. This is interesting because the act of just registering to vote isn’t complicated at all. Voters can register to vote (by mail) without an ID. Just fill out the federal form and mail it in, no ID required. In Georgia, a photo ID is required to vote.

CONVICTED FELONS

There is a reason the right to vote is stripped from you when you become a felon. If it wasn’t so important they wouldn’t take it away. It’s also no coincidence that a majority of felons are of people of color. The last thing conservatives want is six million people who’ve been locked away and stripped of their rights suddenly having the ability to vote. It’s enough potential to change election outcomes in key states with strict felon-voting policies. 7.4 percent of black Americans can’t vote because they are felons, compared to 1.8 percent of the rest of the population.

Farah Stockman of The New York Times wrote, “The movement to restore felons’ voting rights has gotten tangled up in partisan ideological battles, with Democratic leaders tending to support expanded access to the ballot and Republicans opposing it.”

If you’ve paid your debt to society and are given the right to start your life over again, why can’t you gain your right to vote back as well? Florida is trying to change that with Amendment 4. In Florida, voters have the ability to restore a felon’s right to vote after completing their sentence. Florida’s Amendment 4 will restore voting rights to former felons who served their sentence, including parole and probation, with the exception of those convicted of murder and sexual offenses.

Other countries make the voting process very simple and even mandatory. The United States is a democracy; its voters choose its elected officials, not the other way around. So if you can vote, please vote. Otherwise, don’t complain when the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

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