Read This If Voting Is Easy For You

Franklin Strong
8 min readAug 14, 2021

I’m a teacher and a deputy voter registrar for my Texas county. Sometimes those two roles come together: I lead voter registration drives at my school, help organize transportation to get our students to the polls, and generally work to turn out the vote among our student body. I see this work as an extension of my teaching, since my goal as a writing teacher is to help students learn to use their voices to create change, and voting is another means of doing that.

I’ve written about my school before, and our students, who are almost all non-white, and who generally come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The vast majority are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. And while every voting experience is different, I can make some generalizations about what I’ve seen in a few years of registering and helping them get to the polls. The bottom line is that voting is a very different experience for them than it is for me.

Here’s what voting is like for me:

As an election rolls around, I look up (because I know where to look up) when early voting starts. I find nearby polling places. Most years, there are two or three within a mile or two of my house, and at least one on my route to work. Which is convenient because, of course, I have a car and drive to work.

I pick a day and a time to vote. Sometimes I’m so eager to cast my ballot that I go on the first day of early voting. But I also know lines are shorter in the middle of the week, so sometimes I’ll go on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Sometimes I vote on the way to work; sometimes I vote on the way home. My work hours are 8 to 5, so either works. In 2018, I wanted to vote on the first day polls were open, but I didn’t want to wait too long in line, so I figured the middle of the day was best. I texted my assistant principal to get permission to go vote during my planning period. No problem, she said.

When I get to the polling place, I walk in, smile at the poll-workers, flash my driver’s license, do the deed, and get on my way. Some elections, I’m in and out in five minutes. I think it’s been at least a decade since I’ve waited in line for more than thirty minutes.

That’s it! Everything associated with voting — registration, finding a polling place, getting to the polling place, identifying myself, casting my ballot — is easy.

Here’s what voting can be like for my students:

I’ll start with two of last year’s seniors, Melissa and Rebecca (all names changed). They’re twins; they turned 18 a few days before the deadline to register. In addition to their classwork, both girls worked after school; they come from a big family with limited access to transportation. Getting rides to places is a challenge; if they want to go anywhere, they usually have to go together.

On October 25th — eight days before election day and in the middle of the early voting period — they both received notices that their registration applications had been rejected. The error was the state’s — neither girl had made a mistake on her registration form. But to remedy it, they were asked to complete a new form and verify their social security numbers with (at least) a copy of their SSN cards. It was too late to do this by mail, so they had to do it in person. During regular business hours. Again, these girls were full-time students who worked after school, with limited transportation. Nonetheless, they pulled together the necessary documentation and made it to the county office on October 28th — two days before the end of early voting.

But that wasn’t the end of it! They were told the forms wouldn’t be processed immediately, so they needed to wait to vote until their names showed up in the county’s online voter database. Melissa’s name appeared the next day, but Rebecca wasn’t in the system until Friday, October 30th, the last day of early voting.

You may have guessed the next problem: the girls were scheduled to work until 7:30 on both the 30th and November 3rd, election day. “Can I vote tomorrow?” Melissa texted me. The answer was no.

Unlike me, these girls don’t have the type of job where you can just text the boss and tell him you need a quick break to vote. Most years they would have been out of luck.

Fortunately (!!), because of COVID, the state extended early voting options, and the girls were able to find a polling place that was open late. They voted at literally the only time they were able to, around nine o’clock on the last day of early voting.

That was in 2020. In 2018, while helping my students find their nearest polling place, I noticed that, for most of them, the “nearest polling place” was the same spot: an HEB off of I-35. Kids come to our school from all around the city. Why did they all have the same voting location, whether they lived north of our campus or south of it?

The answer is that Republicans have for years limited voting options for perceived Democrat constituencies by closing polling places in neighborhoods largely populated by minorities. It’s a doubly pernicious tactic: it makes polling places scarcer and farther apart in these neighborhoods — harder to find, harder to get to — and it means longer lines for the polling places that remain. Voting becomes more costly in multiple ways: it takes more effort, more time, and it means more hours lost at work.

Several weeks before election day that year, I ran into one of our recent graduates (I’ll call her Marisol) while canvassing in her neighborhood in the southern part of town. I asked if she was registered to vote. No, she said. I asked if she wanted to be. Yes, she said. She wanted to vote, she cared very much about some of the elections on the ballot, she said, but she was intimidated by what she didn’t know. She had heard, for example, that if she went she’d have to vote for races like County Judge and Railroad Commissioner, and she didn’t know anything about all that. I talked her through the voting process, pointed her to places she could get information on local races and lesser-known candidates, and registered her. She was excited, she was informed.

On the last day of early voting — as with Melissa and Rebecca, the only remaining opportunity for Marisol to vote — she sent me a message letting me know she was in line to vote at that HEB. We messaged for some time until she was finally able to vote, after a wait of about three hours.

Again, consider the contrast of that voting experience to mine.

The final group of stories are the most disturbing. These are students who (like the others) did everything right, who registered and showed up at the right time with the right ID, but were still intimidated or even turned away from the polls by people who were supposed to ensure their right to vote. One student of mine, Lizet, who turned eighteen between the end of early voting and election day, went to vote early and was told that she couldn’t vote until her actual birthday. That’s false; a person who is eighteen by election day is eligible to vote in that election, period. She should have been allowed to cast her ballot.

Another student, Carlos, was told he wasn’t registered and turned away by poll-workers twice on election day despite being properly registered and possessing proper identification. After calling the county, he was able to vote on his third attempt, at a different polling place farther from the home where he was staying.

Obviously, I don’t know that my students’ ethnicity or appearance or age played a part in these mistakes. But I do know that nothing like that has ever happened to me.

Why the differences matter:

There are two lessons you can take from these stories. On one hand, you can blithely point out that, yes, all of these people were able to vote. It’s true: after multiple attempts, with me and my colleagues checking laws and calling the county, with tenacity and impressive displays of commitment, Melissa and Rebecca, Marisol and Lizet and Carlos all successfully cast their ballots.

On the other hand, all of them faced obstacles I’ve never faced, and that in itself is a problem. Access to the vote is not supposed to be distributed unequally among different populations. If it’s easy for me, it should be easy for everyone.

But another big problem is that many of my students were only barely able to vote. If one more thing had gone wrong — if one more poll-worker had told them no, if they hadn’t been able to get a ride, if voting hours had been a little bit shorter — their voices would have gone unrecorded.

And that matters because right now Republican legislators are working hard to make sure more of those things go wrong. SB1 and HB3, the two voting bills that Texas Democrats have so far maneuvered to keep from becoming law, both target late-night hours at polling places, where workers with challenging schedules, like Melissa and Rebecca, are able to vote. They both empower partisan “poll watchers” to challenge voters, increasing the risk of the kind of intimidation Lizet and Carlos faced. And, in these bills and earlier versions Democrats blocked, Republicans have taken aim at the ways voters work around obstacles. The current bills eliminate drive-thru voting and tighten restrictions on mail-in voting. Previous versions of the bills would have complicated efforts to bring groups to the polls, by changing Sunday voting hours to block after-church voting drives often organized by Black churches. All of this while Texas Republicans continue to try to worsen the situations that make these work-arounds necessary: they’re still attempting to close polling places in minority neighborhoods, lengthening lines and making voting less convenient.

And there’s no justification for these measures other than perceived partisan advantage. No one has shown (because no evidence exists) that drive-thru voting, late-night voting, or mail-in voting increase voter fraud. But there is plenty of evidence that voters of color are more likely to use these methods of voting, because voters of color are more likely to face challenges like those faced by my students.

Whenever I talk about this online, someone pushes back with a comment like, “If voting matters to them, they’ll find a way to do it.” That’s a little galling, given the dedication I’ve seen my students show in getting to the polls, and given that I suspect many of the people saying it have voting experiences that mirror mine. But I actually think there’s an opportunity in that naïveté; I genuinely think some people don’t know how hard voting can be for other people in the world.

Maybe this post can open some eyes. I honestly think the issue of voting rights needn’t divide Democrats and Republicans. Expanded voting options didn’t make Houston bluer or help Texas Democrats flip any congressional districts in 2020. Greater turnout just means better representation, and a political party that has faith in the persuasive power of its message won’t fear the votes of Melissa and Rebecca, Marisol, Lizet, or Carlos. But a party that tries to keep them away from polls will lose their votes forever, and deserve it.

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Franklin Strong

PhD in Comparative Literature. Latin American lit, African American lit, religion, politics, feminism, teaching, Cuba, Spain, Texas.