America, we love stories of people overcoming huge structural barriers through sheer will and determination!
Take this story of Mildred Madison, a 94-year-old Detroit resident who requested an absentee ballot because she was temporarily living with her son in Chicago. That absentee ballot never arrived, which forced Madison and her son to drive hundreds of miles roundtrip so she could cast her ballot.
In a segment on CBS, Madison is held up as a paragon of civic participation. “A 94-year-old woman proves if she can find a way to vote, so can we,” the CBS anchor said approvingly, of a woman who had to go to incredible lengths just to fucking cast her ballot. I’m impressed that Madison was this determined to make her vote count, and she and her son clearly understand the impact of voter suppression. But her story isn’t inspiring—it’s a depressing reflection of how hard we make it to vote in the United States, especially in Republican-controlled states that do their best to turn voting from a right to a privilege.
On top of all of the typical voter suppression tactics—from Republican officials closing polling locations in largely Black and brown neighborhoods to efforts to toss out votes that have already been cast—people around the country who, like Madison, never received their absentee ballots have had to expend significant time, effort, and money to vote this year. One of my friends is, at this very moment, on a plane back to Texas just so she can vote. She requested an absentee ballot weeks ago, but despite getting confirmation that her application was received, it never came in the mail. She’s so determined to not be disenfranchised that she spent hundreds of dollars on a last-minute plane ticket, willing to fly during a pandemic so she can cast her ballot in person.
The Dallas Morning News spoke with 23-year-old Bradley Bain, who similarly had to fly back to Texas to vote in person:
“I’m literally spending >$400 to fly to Dallas and vote in person because you ‘accidentally’ flagged me as committing voter fraud in 2018, took me off the voter rolls, and made me ineligible to vote by mail in 2020,” Bain responded to the Republican in a tweet that had more than 176,000 likes as of Tuesday evening.
Bain hadn’t received a response for weeks after sending his absentee ballot application to the Dallas County Elections Department, so on Monday he booked a last-minute flight home to Dallas so he could vote in person.
“It’s been such a saga just to figure out how to vote,” said Bain, who cast his ballot Tuesday during early voting. “I wasn’t going to waste my opportunity to do so.”
Meredith Reilly and Zachary Houdek, two college students who also never received their Texas absentee ballots, shared a similar story—they rented a car and drove halfway across the country to again do something that should be very simple. “I spend so much of my time and energy telling my friends how important it is to vote,” Reilly told the Texas Tribune. “So the idea of not voting was a tough one for me. It felt so hypocritical. I’m going to tell everyone to vote, and I’m just not going to? That’s not going to happen. So we made it a point to hop in the car.”
The Washington Post also interviewed voters who had to fly back to their home states because they never received their absentee ballots:
Kaela Bynoe, a medical student in Baltimore, had been checking the mail every day to see whether her absentee ballot had arrived from her home state of Florida. But it never showed up, and she began to worry it would be too late for her to send it back before the state’s mail-in deadline.
So Bynoe, 23, made alternative plans: She spent $600 on a last-minute flight to vote in person. Upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, she took an Uber straight from the airport to the nearest polling site, cast her ballot and turned right back around to catch a return flight to Maryland.
“If I hadn’t been able to get a flight, I would have driven down to vote,” Bynoe told the Washington Post. She added, “I don’t believe in being complacent. You should always exercise your right to vote.”
But it shouldn’t be this fucking hard.