Before the Georgia governor’s election really went into swing, I knew participating in a democracy was my responsibility as an active member of my community, so while I wasn’t jubilant to vote, I didn’t look at the process as tedious and exhausting.
That was, until, I got to a polling place on the last day of early voting.
I’m from DeKalb County, but I attend Georgia State University. I kept my student status in mind when it came to being a registered voter; however, I was registered to vote under DeKalb County. Everything was made sure to be perfectly in place just in case I needed to meet any exact match rules that I could have missed.
I stood in line for three hours at South DeKalb Mall to vote. I felt like I was in the back of the line forever. My mom stood with me the entire time, the both of us unaware for what was about to happen. I got to the front of the line after so much standing and squatting because of how long I was standing. I filled out a form that would allow me to get the voting card. But, when I turned in the form, I was met with an unpleasant surprise.
I wasn’t appearing in the system–at all. Then, by the time my permit was scanned about two times, it said that I was a resident of Fulton County, although I wasn’t. I haven’t even been in school for six months. This made the process more stressful because my mom didn’t back down as easily as I did; she was frustrated that we stood in line for three hours only for me to find out I couldn’t vote there. It felt like it was based off technicalities that I wasn’t notified about. However, because I was trying to make sense of it all, I thought it made sense that I was a student at Georgia State and I would have to vote in Fulton County. The assistants at the polling place gave me the location I would have to vote at on November 6. My mom and I left the mall completely dumbfounded.
I just couldn’t make sense of how my voter registration under a different county was still overridden by my status as a student. The more I tried to process the entire event, the less it made sense to me. I was aware of how easy it would be to be disqualified based off minor technicalities (like attending a state institution in a county different from my permanent residence), but I never thought about how much of a toll it would take on me, both mentally and emotionally. It felt invalidating. It was almost as if I was being told that my vote didn’t matter, that my participation didn’t matter. It began to feel hopeless.
I woke up at 5 A.M. on Election Day. The entire morning, I was preparing myself to have to either vote in a county that I know absolutely nothing about, have to travel to the county of my permanent residence before class, or not be able to vote at all. I wasn’t excited about having to vote at all.
I walked to the church where the polls were being held. Once again, I was in the back of the line, which felt like it was getting even longer the closer I got to get inside of the building. This time, my sister and my dad met with me there, with my dad staying the entire time. I was barely paying attention when he had made a call to a voting office to check where I was actually registered under: Fulton or DeKalb. The phone call didn’t go very well, because I wasn’t being found in the system again. He was then directed to a hotline assisting voters. The man at the other end of the call told my dad I would need to cast a provisional ballot since I wasn’t coming up in the system at all. At the time that this all happened, I didn’t know what a provisional ballot was–but I was sure about to find out.
There was more standing outside. My father and I made it inside, just before the rain began. I saw that as a halfway good omen.
I was filling out yet another form when I got to a different part of the line, just before I would get the card for the voting machine. Then, my dad pulled me out of line, telling me that it was looking likely that I would have to fill out a provisional ballot.
I felt a lot of things. I was upset, confused, and frustrated. If I needed to pick one specific feeling to really encapsulate how I felt, though, I would say I felt…humiliated. For the first time in a while, I started to cry over how downright humiliated I felt. The entire process sent me into doing the runaround. It didn’t make me feel better to think about how lucky I was to be able to do the runaround with the resources I had: a polling place near my dorm and a supportive family. Not everyone who was experiencing what I was experiencing had that, so they probably didn’t even make it to another polling place. They probably didn’t vote.
I didn’t want to vote by this point and I felt ashamed about it. I thought about how far black people had come in trying to even claim the right to vote. I felt like I owed it to the movement of my people, to the experiences of civil rights activists like John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer.
It all felt unfair. I thought to myself, “Maybe the system was just built to cast some people out,” but that just wasn’t good enough for me. I know that I am not an anomaly. People can be disenfranchised from voting for committing previous crimes, whether they were nonviolent or violent. And, for someone like me, it could be based off things that someone wouldn’t consider to be a possible problem. Minor technicalities can become major issues.
After the most stressful part was done, it was almost hilarious to me that the easiest part of the process was voting for candidates. I was done in under ten minutes (I didn’t know much about any of the Fulton County candidates).
If I was any other cynical person done with politics, I would just boil this experience down to being meaningless. I wouldn’t vote because my takeaway from it all was that my vote didn’t matter. But, I’m not that cynical person. That is why I stood in two different lines and waited to vote. It mattered to me. I wasn’t going to let technicalities cheat me out of being able to participate in a democracy that I care about. I know that I’m one person, but my thoughts and beliefs that can help improve my community and many others in Georgia matter.
My way of fighting against what happened to me during the election season is to talk about it and to continue to participate in my community.
Melina Skeete is a freshman at Georgia State University who just voted for the first time.