Voting Shouldn’t Be Miserable

Yet a new wave of bills across the country are trying to make it just that…

Voters wait in line in Missoula, MT in 2012.

There’s a new wave of bills moving all over the country to clamp down on voting access. The main goal is pretty clear — make it harder for even eligible people to vote. But there’s also another undercurrent here: that voting should be a miserable, tedious experience.

Consider the state of Georgia where, during the 2020 election, voters in both Democratic and Republican counties waited over 30 minutes to vote on average. But focusing on the typical case can paper over the worst case scenarios, like the fact that some Georgia voters waited longer than 10 hours. That kind of wait would have elected officials howling in anger if it affected their family, their friends, or their major donors.

These are people who surely would prefer to be doing almost anything else than waiting in line for 10 hours to cast a ballot — working, cooking dinner for their families, binging TV, learning new dance moves for TikTok, contemplating the universe — but in order to make their views heard, they did the patriotic thing and toughed it out.

Watching these long lines, Americans used the Internet to lend a hand. They ordered snacks and water to be delivered on-demand. Nonprofit organizations like Pizza to the Polls and World Central Kitchen deployed food trucks to polling locations with the longest lines.

A food truck staff member with Pizza to the Polls hands a bottle of water to a voter’s child outside a polling place in Greensboro, NC.

But Georgia lawmakers are not focused on shortening these waiting times for voters because they’re too focused on fighting the efforts to feed hungry people at polling sites. The Georgia legislature just passed a bill that, among other things, would prohibit snacks and beverages at polling places.

Other bills proposed around the country find other interesting ways to make voting more miserable, mostly by piling additional paperwork on voters and election officials — more boxes to check to register to vote, more documents to be photocopied and attached to requests to vote-by-mail. Still other bills reduce the hours and locations to vote — moving polling places to obscure locations so that next time, the five-hour line can be in an industrial neighborhood with no sidewalks and plenty of pollution in the air.

These lawmakers are turning customer service promises on their head. They’re not happy until we’re not happy.

These latest crackdowns are of course all part of a recent howl of rage from the right, upset about the outcomes in last year’s presidential election. And while the crackdowns are clearly aimed at disenfranchising specific voters, especially Black voters and American Indians, the reality is that these proposals could hurt nearly any voter, regardless of race, gender, age, or community by more broadly trying to make our elections an interminable and miserable process.

The good news is that there is a different way — where elections can be approachable, exciting, and even (dare I say it) fun!

The first step to more fun elections is to streamline the boring parts! We can use new technology to secure the integrity of our elections while giving voters and election administrators more time to focus on the substantive decisions we face during our elections. To get more specific, this means upgrading our elections systems. When Americans engage with the DMV or other government offices, eligible voters should be automatically registered to vote (as is the case in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia) and that registration should follow us when we move. Secure online portals should allow for address updates, party changes, and mail ballot requests for voters who can verify their identities. These reforms decrease the errors, security risks, and massive time and costs associated with paper forms and data entry.

Next, we can make our elections work better when we plow those savings into things like better poll worker recruitment and training, cameras and audits that increase the security and transparency of our elections.

Finally, election administrators can partner with and promote civic events — whether it’s churches mobilizing Souls to the Polls activations or high school drum corps leading Parades to the Polls of first-time voters. For much of American history, Election Day was a raucous affair. Today, Puerto Rico often has the highest voter turnout in the US because of a celebratory atmosphere on Election Day.

In recent years, events like National Voter Registration Day and Vote Early Day have made registering to vote and voting a more social and celebratory experience. These events point the way forward, celebrated as they are by election officials, community organizations, and some of the biggest media and technology companies in the country, like Snapchat, MTV, Twitter, and iHeartRadio.

None of this is rocket science. We can allow politicians to make our democracy feel like a tax audit with the IRS. Or we can do the simple, straightforward work to make our elections feel as inviting and fun as a lively street fair, precisely the sort of place that more people want to be and want to be seen.

Vote Bot celebrates National Voter Registration Day with New Era Colorado in 2012.

Policy wonk, organizer, and entrepreneur. Partner, Impactual.com. Founder, National Voter Registration Day. Formerly Alliance for Youth Action.

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