My Accidentally Silent Vote
I have a confession. I didn’t vote. It’s not for the reasons that we’ve heard over and over again this election season, that “neither one is a good option.” I actually think there was a great option. My reason was a mistake. When I moved from DC to Florida two years ago (how’s that for poignancy), I changed my driver’s license the license plate on my car and all those things that one does when one relocates. This gave me the option to automatically register to vote, which I did. Some time later, I received my voter registration card, and like the Sort-of-Sometimes-About-Certain-Things-Type A-Gal that I am, I put the card in a file tucked neatly next to my passport and social security card and all those important things. “Good,” I thought, “safe and sound until I need it in two years.”
A few days ago, on November 6th, I went to put that little card in my wallet (oh! The horror of showing up at my polling spot, which I’d researched in advance and thought out timing and parking for, and NOT HAVE THAT sacred little card!) I was just about to pat myself on the back when I realized that it didn’t have my current name on it, it said my maiden name. Somehow, my card seemed to have arrived with who I used to be the last time I lived in Florida, as a 24-year-old unmarried grad student.
I cannot express what I felt in that moment of realization. Fear, dread, embarrassment – some cocktail of those feelings, but without a mixer. I’d had two years to fix this issue, and here we all were on the eve of this defining, historic election, and I was ineligible. The irony of my pre-planning and the file that felt safe seeped out of me with the sweat that came. There was nothing I could do. I called. They apologized, but there was nothing I could do in time to make a difference. I Googled. It was too late, there was nothing I could do.
For the next couple of days, “I Voted” stickers would illicit a quick smile and then a tiny little shame spiral. Facebook and Instagram and people I passed on the streets made me proud and feel personally appalled all at the same time. On the night of the election, my church hosted a meditation and prayer service with a labyrinth, in celebration of the end of the tumultuous season, but also for unity and hope and peace in our nation. I attended, walking amongst fellow church members – gay, straight, crying, smiling, peaceful-looking, anxiety-wearing. I held all of their shared hope in my heart, while also having this nagging feeling that I was keeping a secret. I was in the club but not really, a halfsies visionary, a faux supporter. Never have I ever wanted so badly to call myself more than just guilty by association. I wanted to be all-in.
That night, after tucking my kids in and praying with them for the election (my daughter kept asking me, “Mommy, what’s that girl’s name who you want to win the day?”) I watched the news coverage. Like other people I’ve talked to, I quickly got exhausted by it all and went to sleep before the results came in/came crashing down. I woke, right at 5 am, as if I’d set an alarm, and my New York Times update shocked my system and set off all my internal alarms. Like so many other people (all over the world, I presume,) I muddled through the day, like Eeyore with a hangover. I felt filled with sadness and grief and anger and looming storm clouds. Disbelief and mourning reigned.
I made coffee and practically crawled to my yoga mat to breathe. Mid-Down Dog, the reality of my screw-up, my inability to vote, hit me in a new way. It wasn’t about that stupid little magical card. My shame connected with the feeling that so many people have had throughout the annals of time and have now (RIGHT NOW THROUGH THIS ELECTION, RIGHT NOW THIS NEXT DAY) – I do not have a voice; I cannot vote.
Did I mention I was on my yoga mat in my home, sipping my hazelnut coffee, whilst my children slept peacefully in their separate rooms? Yes. I am a comfortable white, heterosexual woman living in America. I mourned for my LGBTQ+, Latina/o, African American, poor, marginalized, etc. brothers and sisters who woke up on November 9th filled with fear. (Please hear me say that I am not minimalizing being a straight Caucasian self-identified female in America, because I am also of child-bearing age and care about sexual freedoms and sexual abuse. That’s another very important topic that I’m avoiding diving into.) I thought of all the young people, not yet 18, who felt passionate yet powerless. I pictured my inadequate voter card spooning with my other forms of identification in that luxurious manila folder and saw it in a new way. I was struck by the comfort and convenience of my social security card and the freedom and ease of my passport (all you have to do is go to CVS and the post office, right?)
I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of all the political arguments and the theories and the projections of the future American political climate. Frankly, I don’t feel the need to know everything. I’m also aware that my vote did not hold control, as any individual’s didn’t. But I know what I feel and what the Collective Feel seemed to be, and that the awakeness of our culture says enough.
I started out calling this a confession because I felt ashamed. By the time November 9th ended, I’d let a lot flow through my bones: the internalization, the social media reflections (angst and pride and worry and hope.) That flow didn’t provide answers, but it did usher in some sort of healing, some sort of actualization that just like we were on November 7th, we’re in this together.
My daughter kept checking in with me: “You sad, Mommy?” And for those couple of days, my answer was, “Yes, Punkin, I am sad: I wanted that girl to win the day.” On November 10th, my new voter registration card arrived in the mail, ready to be filed cozily in a manila folder, and used to represent my own voice, in 2020.