By Kaitlin Woolery
I never imagined my first time voting in a presidential election would occur during a pandemic by absentee ballot. One of the rites of passage that comes with turning 18 is the privilege to vote. For years I tagged along with my mom to our district’s middle school gym, which for one day was transformed into a polling place lined with strategically placed tables shielded with privacy curtains. My mom would feed her ballot into a machine that appeared to gobble it up. At the exit, a smiling volunteer would hand me a red, white and blue “I voted” sticker which I proudly placed on my jacket.
My first voting experience has certainly been different from all of those I remember. It is only October, and my vote has already been cast one month before the traditional election day which occurs on the first Tuesday in November.
It began in September when I received an application for an absentee ballot in my campus mailbox. The form was relatively straightforward to fill out. All I had to do was choose one of several reasons for voting by mail. I checked the box which stated that I will be “out of town” on election day. This year an additional choice for COVID was added for those voters who feel unsafe voting in person. I mailed the application in it’s prepaid envelope. Next, I waited for the official absentee ballot to arrive.
Each day I anxiously checked my campus mailbox, anticipating the ballot to arrive like a kid waiting for a birthday card filled with money from Grandma. In about a week, the ballot arrived. I rushed to my suite to open the surprisingly thick envelope. The package contained a list of instructions, two envelopes and a bright yellow cardstock ballot. The instructions this time seemed a little bit more involved than those for the previous application. I was a little nervous because I heard if you don’t follow the procedure correctly, your vote may be thrown out.
I waited 19 years for this monumental occasion and I did not want to mess it up.
After filling out my choice for president, I discovered that there were also local candidates on the ballot. I realized I did not know much about these candidates and had only focused on the presidential race. Since I’m not at home, I didn’t have the benefit of seeing those hundreds of campaign lawn signs scattered throughout my town. At times, it felt like I was blindly voting for candidates based on name recognition or party affiliation.
After completing the ballot, I folded it and placed it in the inner envelope which I sealed and signed as instructed. Next, I placed the inner envelope in the outer envelope. The outer envelope was addressed to my hometown town hall and had prepaid postage which was a relief because I do not own a stamp. I was a little confused as to whether I should mail this ballot in the regular mail or if I had to find one of those special “ballot boxes”. I decided to drop the ballot in the regular mail and for a brief moment I had the feeling I used to have when mailing my letter to Santa.
After the ballot left my hands, I felt a sense of pride. I performed my civic duty and voted in a contentious, heated, polarized, and important presidential election. Yes, the experience was a bit different than I had remembered years ago tagging along to the transformed middle school gym.
I did not get to “feed” the ballot eating machine nor did I get an “I voted” sticker, but somehow it felt even more rewarding because for the first time it was my vote.