Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy National Voter Registration Day

Photo by Snappylifestyle
We vote for our friends when they ask to to like this or that on Facebook.We vote for favourite candidates on American Idol or America's Next Top Model. As Americans, there's nothing more we love more than to exercise our right to share our opinions in the form of yay or nay or hell no way, so long as it involves little more than a click of a "like" button or two-second text message to a television network. But when it comes to the most important vote of all, the one that comes around every first Tuesday of November at four year intervals, a mix of apathy and obstacle keep many American bums, particularly ones belonging to the young and first-time voters, glued securely to the couch. If only we could cast ballots via Facebook (they already pretty much own all the information there is to know about us including our deepest, darkest drunkest college night secrets, why not our selection of presidential candidate?), perhaps the colours on the map would look a little different. In 2008, six million eligible voters did not register, which is like the whole of New York City, and that's a scary fact. 

But it's not necessarily our fault. Increasing controversy over state voter ID laws (Texas, for example, accepts GUN LICENSES but not student ID's) complicates things, not least for those of us, like myself, catching up with the campaign from overseas. And at home nearly 1,000 voter ID bills have been introduced in 46 states since 2001 (let's think back to what happened in the, ahem, election of 2000). Looking to update my own registration experience, an expired driver's license causes a huge problem for a girl-on-the-go during fashion month, without a stable address to call my own to file and return the signed registration form the long way. Clearly, a lack of a valid driving (or gun) license means I'm as unAmerican as apple pie and should have to clamber over a few extra hurdles in order to cast my vote as a penalty. Previous votes in previous elections or, er, passports and tax returns, are not proof positive enough that I am who I say I am entitling me to repeat the privilege. Should have bucked that Givenchy wallet and bought a gun instead. 

So in response to tightening and increasingly absurd restrictions that directly target traditionally liberal demographic pockets (students, the elderly, low-income families...you know, "those people" who love to mooch goodies like education and health care off the government like fashion week freebies), an initiative has rolled out across America today to fight back: National Voter Registration Day. Many more publications much more informed than this one break down the activities of the day (the Guardian, for instance), but for my part I want to add the following aimed particularly at young Americans studying or working abroad. Those of us who leave the US to reside in raging strongholds of "socialism" such as Europe have a tendency to lean left, and in light of the scary discussions going on the other side of the pond where memories of Bushisms have dwindled into the rhetoric of comedy rather than recent memory, our votes count more than ever. We also have a tendency, once we leave home and gaze back across the Atlantic or Pacific to see things from the outside, informed by the perspective of another culture or another country, to segue into disenfranchisement and believe that, by leaving America behind, what happens on November 6th won't affect us. So long as the Queen still has her corgis and her gin and tonic everyday when Big Ben strikes four, my life will be A-Ok. Wrong. Expatriate or patriot, the right to vote was hard won and should not be easily relinquished, no matter how near or far you live from the White House.

I know first hand that casting a ballot overseas is not nearly as enticing as heading on down to the polls, something I've actually never had the opportunity to do as I turned 18 when I was already in college away from my home state. Voting absentee, not least overseas, is far more complicated, feels far less exciting and oftentimes, we are told that our ballots are not counted in the initial vote, so why even bother? But this election, for the first time ever, all U.S. citizens can receive their blank ballots electronically. Depending on your state or county, you can get your ballot by email, fax, or internet download. Sure, it's not as simple as liking your favourite ANTM girl on Facebook and fax machines are beyond archaic, but not nearly as archaic as electing a man who gets caught saying crap like this because you were lacking in proper documentation (i.e. studying instead of shooting) or couldn't be assed with the hassle of sorting yourself out from overseas. 

THE DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE IS OCTOBER 6TH, and if you find yourself Tweeting on the topic today, be sure to use the hashtag #925NVRD. So, my fellow expat young Americans, take a minute out of your busy routines today, even if it means missing the Mugler livestream and register now. We millenials are already the first generation in god knows how many who will have less than our parents in every sense of the word. Do we want that sad reality to also extend to our most fundamental rights as Americans, young or old? And to those of you first time voters hailing from the left or right out there reading, I'll say this. Speaking from the nostalgia of watching the John Kerry rally get rained out first hand on election night in Boston back in 2004 ruining my first ever pair of Ugg Boots: there ain't no time like the first time.

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