After the midterms I feel neither celebratory or sad, just like I have things to do

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This midterm, I voted for the first time in my new home state of New York. When I registered, I received a letter from the New York Board of Elections requesting a copy of my ID. I mailed it but didn’t hear back. Up until Saturday, November 3, I had no confirmation of my voting status—and for the first time in my voting life, I felt the choking fear of potentially not being able to make civic decisions for myself and the people I care about. Eventually, I received my approval and confirmation with my polling station address, but my partner, who underwent the same process, did not. He was unable to vote, and we don’t know why.

me and nala

me and nala

My polling station is a high school across the street from my house. My new neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, is a historically Black neighborhood, and all of my poll workers were Black women, which was awesome. As I walked in, another Black woman was leaving. “I always feel so good after I vote!” she said, loud enough for me to hear. I didn’t feel that way. So many people can’t vote and that makes me feel anguish. I gave her the nod, anyway–an affirmation to say, “I see you, sis.”

I had to fill out two ballots because I couldn’t remember if I could vote for Working Families Party and Democratic candidates on the same ballot (although I’m not sure it mattered because I think all WFP candidates were Dem candidates on the NYC ballot) or if I had to vote the party line. So, I half-filled in one circle and then filled in another circle on the same line. I learned that this isn’t allowed. For a second, I wondered if I would be one of the reasons those vote suppressors would say there is “widespread voter fraud.”

Once the scanner rejected my ballot, I realized I do this kind of thing all the time. That is, I think I know something, but I am not sure and usually forge ahead anyway without making any interventions, fuck it up, and am forced to start over again. Just two weeks ago, I put my much-awaited bar cart together without looking at the instructions because, “Hey, I got this!” and then had to take it apart and do it over again, which took an hour. This is a bizarre tendency, because I pride myself on efficiency (I’m a proud ENTJ, if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types) and sometimes judge other people for being inefficient. The bar cart looks bomb tho.

After the first ballot was rejected, I felt like a hypocrite and dummy ‘cause I still didn’t know about the WFP/Dem thing. I filled out the second ballot quickly, put it in the scanner, and left. It was raining, and I was without an umbrella.

When I got home, my partner, who checked the online voter verification website and found out he was still registered in CA (where he lived up until August), was still wrestling with what to do. “Should I see if I can vote absentee?” he asked no one in particular.

“I think it’s too late,” I responded, not knowing for sure. However, I imagined that trying to get  a ballot from CA on election day was damn near impossible. Eventually, he resigned himself to not voting. We mumbled something about New York being a Democratic wash anyway and that made us feel better.  

I didn’t listen to any news all day because I had shit to do. Around 7:30, we went to our friend’s place to eat pork tacos and listen to early results. We were home by 9:30. I sat up until almost 1 a.m. waiting for the Gillum and Abrams results. I knew Stacey was still up, and her team was too, so I wanted to be awake in solidarity with them—and because when Obama was elected in 2008, I was somewhere I didn’t want to be, and I wanted to be particular about creating memories when Black people make history.

I was careful to manage my expectations of the results. I listened to all the political podcasts leading up to the election, so I knew what was possible. I knew Trump and his cronies had stoked fear and hate for months leading up to Election Day to motivate people to vote in his interest and against their own. I also knew that my friends were working on campaigns that have taken centuries of Black organizing to prepare for. The stakes were high, and I was concerned about the values that drive people’s election choices, which made me feel even more committed to social change communications work.

I went to bed at 1 and woke up at 5 to see how Stacey and the team were doing. The votes were still being counted. I felt neither celebratory or sad, just like it was weird ass hump day and I had things to do.

It’s Friday, and we still don’t know if Stacey won—but we do know that her opponent, Brian Kemp, refused to step aside as Georgia’s secretary of state; he ran for governor of a state while overseeing the elections in that state. According to the New York Times, “under Kemp, Georgia purged more than 1.5 million voters from the rolls, eliminating 10.6 percent of voters from the state’s registered electorate from 2016 to 2018 alone.” I’m hopeful America won’t stand for this and Stacey will justly win the governorship through a runoff. We’ll see.

I remain grateful for the hard-won victories of people like 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Bronx, the youngest woman to be elected to congress, and Amendment 4 in Florida which restores voting rights to millions of excluded formerly incarcerated people. Fun fact: Half of those folks are Republicans. Enfranchising formerly incarcerated people or incarcerated people doesn't necessitate a more radical electorate, as people still vote along racial lines. This week, I’m reminded that elections are important, and so is year-round organizing. That’s why I want to shout out the Electoral Justice Project run by the Movement for Black Lives and their Black November campaign, as well as the Dream Defenders in Florida for their work on Amendment 4.

On Tuesday’s episode of Today Explained, Sean Rameswaram’s guest discussed Australia’s national voting holiday and their mandatory voting policy, which equals a 95 percent voter turnout. Ours hovers around 50 percent. In Australia, they make the effort to travel to people in rural areas, people with disabilities, and people in prison, making real democracy more possible. How novel.

Elections feel a lot like the hunger games; each team prepares year-round for a culminating battle and brandishes weapons in the form of political attack ads, lawsuits, mobilizing violent mobs, or using dog-whistles to wake up sleeping giants who massacre people in synagogues. They’re rife with competition, fear, and scandal. If elections reveal a blueprint to genuine freedom and healthy co-existence, it’s lost on me. When we cast our ballots, we are voting for two Americas–where some people are in, and other people are out. Pundits said this election was the most important of our lifetime. I don't know about that, but it upheld that we’re not only on different pages politically, we’re not even in the same library.

NYC, BlogShanelle Matthews