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I'm Registered to Vote, Now What?

with Ben Sheehan and Kat Calvin

We sat down with Ben Sheehan, author of OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say? and Kat Calvin, founder of Spread the Vote to ask them the question: I'm registered to vote, now what do I do? Read on for their insight on what voters on the ground can do next. 

BEN SHEEHAN

Well, you have homework. 

Block off an hour, grab some wine, weed, or herbal tea, and teach yourself about the jobs on your ballot. If you’re making someone your state senator, what powers are you giving them? If you elect someone to be your city council member, state secretary of state, or U.S. representative, how will they affect your life? Ballotpedia is a great resource for this, as well as OMG WTF on Instagram. 

But perhaps you should think differently about voting. For a moment, let’s say you’re the boss of each elected office — because in a way, you are. As the hiring executive, you’ll want to follow the interview process, the primary and the general election campaigns. You’ll want to look at the final job candidates, the names on the ballot. You’ll want to consider their backgrounds, history, and skillsets — by Googling them and researching their positions. And when you vote, you’ll be making the actual hires. Because in truth, over the next 2-6 years, you’ll be paying those people’s salaries, benefits, and expenses with your taxes. You’ll likely want regular updates on their progress through social media posts, email newsletters, and town halls. You might want to offer feedback on their work — both positive and negative. And in 2-6 years, based on their performances, you’ll decide if you want to renew their contracts. 

As for the voting process, if you plan to vote in-person go as early as possible (that date depends on your state). If you plan to vote by mail, request your ballot and return it ASAP. If you’re voting absentee, set a Zoom date for you and your friends to go through your ballots and discuss why you are or aren’t voting for certain candidates. But take advantage of this time to do the work, because that’s what democracy entails. Yes, there’s oversight within government or through the media, but the ultimate check on power is the person making hiring decisions. And without your oversight, government officials can skirt accountability. They can count on your lack of knowledge about their record and responsibilities. And many officials actually rely on you tuning out, because your ignorance is their permanence. 

Lastly, it’s good to understand the rules. At the federal level it’s the U.S. Constitution, and to better understand that check out OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?. But also remember that your daily life is more frequently affected by your state, county, and city leaders than by the officials in Washington. So, make sure you don’t neglect those non-federal hires. Over the next several weeks, you have the chance to spur changes across your city, county, state, and country. In the words of one singing founding father, don’t throw away your shot. 

Ben Sheehan is the founder of OMG WTF and author of OMG WTF Does the Constitution Say? (in English and Spanish), as well as OMG WTF Is Gerrymandering?: A Journal for Concerned Citizens.

KAT CALVIN

Congratulations! You have completed the first of several steps to officially become an American voter. Registering to vote is important — you have to do it in every state except North Dakota. And it’s tough for a lot of people — you sometimes need ID, access to the internet or a printer, you may not have a home address — there are a lot of things that stop people from registering to vote, but still, 83% of eligible voters are registered in the US. For many, that’s the easiest part. So what next?  

In 2016, 55% of eligible voters turned out to vote. That means that tens of millions of registered voters never actually made it to the polls. Why? Well, there are a lot of barriers that get in the way. For instance: 

Government Identification

36 states have voter ID laws on the books and there are situations in all 50 states where you need ID to vote. But over 21 million eligible voters don’t have government-issued ID and they can be tough to get. That’s why we built an entire organization at Spread The Vote to help people do just that. 

Polling Location

For many people, their house and their job are many miles apart but they have to vote at a polling place near their house, which can mean taking several hours off of work to go back and forth to the polls and not every state requires that employers give time off to vote, or that they give very much. 

Time Spent at the Polls

Many polling places, especially in low income or communities of color often have lines that can stretch to five or six hours long or more. For the elderly, people with disabilities, people with small children, people who have to get back to jobs, or even people who don’t want to stand outside in November for six hours, these lines make it impossible for them to vote. There are also barriers due to language difficulties, discrimination against people with disabilities, a lack of early voting options, restrictive absentee ballot requirements, and a lot more that gets in the way of potential voters actually making their vote count.  

So what to do? Make a plan. That’s right. The best thing you can do is making a voting plan for you, and then for everyone in your community. Figure out exactly how you are going to vote — in person or absentee? Early or on Election Day? Find out where your polling place is, or what the options are to return your mail in ballot. Make sure you read the instructions on your ballot carefully and follow them so your ballot doesn’t get discarded.  

Do your research! There are a lot of confusing things to vote for every year — ballot measures, comptrollers, other things no one understands. Schedule a virtual ballot party with your friends, assign everyone a few things to research, have a few drinks and work through your ballots together. There are a lot of barriers to voting, it’s true. But we know what they are and we have plenty of time to overcome them. So start now — make a plan, talk to your friends and family, and get yourself and everyone you know ready to vote in November. Remember — if we all get 100% of our own communities to vote, then we’ll get 100% of America to vote. 

Kat Calvin is the founder of Spread The Vote and co-founder/CEO of Project ID Action Fund.