Amid concerns around Covid-19, voters across America have chosen to exercise their early voting rights, leading to record-high turnouts in a number of states. However, in many places, large turnouts have been met with voter suppression strategies which have caused long lines and hours-long waits at polling sites. Still, the massive response shows voters remain undeterred to have their voices heard.
Joel Ramirez, a junior at the University of Houston and city resident, spoke about the difficulties that came with voting in his first presidential election. “I wanted to be cautious this year, especially with Covid,” Ramirez said, as he wanted to avoid in-person voting because he lives with his diabetic mother who is at a higher risk of contracting the virus. “My aunt and brother planned to do drive-in voting at NRG Park, but we realized it wasn’t feasible with our schedules,” Ramirez explained, eventually settling for in-person voting at his local polling place. “There were around 20 voting machines which I thought would be sufficient for a fast process, but this wasn’t the case,” Ramirez said. He said he believes the prohibition of straight-ticket voting was one of the reasons for longer lines.
Other Texas voters also waited in lines for hours, and endured challenges to exercise their right to vote. Among other measures designed to discourage voting, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbot only allowed one ballot drop-off site per county, regardless of the county size and kept strict conditions limiting absentee ballots to people who are over 65, disabled, in jail or out of their registered county during the voting period. In order to accommodate the crush of early voters in the Houston area, Harris county election officials offered creative solutions, including keeping the largest polling site open the entire 24 hours of the last day of early voting and letting people do drive through voting, a move that Republican operatives challenged in court this weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court rejected their effort to have 127,000 drive-through votes thrown out.
On the last day of early voting in Louisiana, exactly a week before Election Day, Denise Parker waited outside the Lake Vista Community Center under cloudy skies. Parker, 44, who votes in every local and national election, said she would begrudgingly wait as long as it took to cast her ballot. She said voting is “an opportunity to be active in every process of our government. It allows us to make decisions or help to make decisions for our future.”
Parker, who has to walk with a cane, said she felt that the state was not doing enough to help residents vote during the pandemic. “There’s definitely not enough polling places,” she said, periodically tapping her cane on the walkway. “I think that they should have had the same polling places that they have on Election Day open and available because those are closer to people’s neighborhoods. What has been provided for us was just a form of lip service because it shouldn’t be this difficult.”
Not long after Parker spoke with Foghorn New Orleans correspondent Julian Sorapuru, he said he saw police escorting her to the front of the line, a courtesy being extended to elderly and disabled people.
Other Louisiana residents, like Angelica Schiffer, had to forgo early voting and come back on Election Day due to work obligations and long wait times. Schiffer, 23, is a manager at a local Starbucks and attempted to vote on her lunch break, but she did not anticipate contending with lines that wrapped around the building. “I didn’t get to vote last election because I was away at college, and my stuff wasn’t updated. I’ve been trying to be more active, and I definitely wanted to vote,” Schiffer said. “I still want to try to, but I couldn’t do it today.”
Schiffer noted the difficulties newly-minted voters face as “nobody taught me any of this, so I’ve been trying to figure it out.” Schiffer also faces uneasiness as she is worried there might be some flaws with her voter registration since she only recently moved to New Orleans. Regardless, she is still determined to cast her ballot and exercise her voice. “I just think that the way the country’s been the past four years, I don’t wanna do that again,” Schiffer said.
While mail-in ballot states have not had to contend with long lines, they are still facing their own obstacles.
Washington state has been embroiled in lawsuits. According to kING-5, a local NBC affiliate, the Washington state Attorney General was in federal court on Friday, Oct. 30, as part of a 14-state lawsuit filed to ensure that the U.S. Postal Service delivers ballots in a timely manner. Prior to that, a King County judge ruled that Washington state must reimburse 39 counties for money spent on ballot boxes as part of a 2017 ruling which required at least one ballot box for every 15,000 registered voters. Still, Carolyn Jatul, a USF kinesiology major who has spent fall semester at her home in Seattle, enjoys Washington’s unique voting process. “People here are very empowering when it comes to voting,” Jatul said, who hopes the rest of the nation will adopt the state’s policy encouraging vote-by-mail. “I vote immediately and send my ballot in.”
As voters in many states contend with long lines, some groups have volunteered to make waiting more pleasant.
Joy to the Polls, a non-partisan movement designed to make voting a celebration, lifted Philadelphia voters’ spirits on Saturday, Oct. 24, by leading waiting voters in a socially-distanced “Cha-Cha Slide.” A video of this went viral on social media. Meanwhile, Pizza to the Polls sends food trucks to poll lines. A voter can go to Pizza to the Polls’ official website, type a polling location’s address, and the group will roll up with piping hot pies. As of Nov. 2, the group has delivered about 33,000 pizzas to 1,240 polling places in 40 states according to their website.
In San Francisco, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr greeted voters outside of the Chase Center on Oct. 31. Home to the Warriors, the Chase Center is one of the many NBA arenas teams have volunteered as polling sites across the nation. Kerr cast his vote in the morning and stayed to greet voters at the ballot drop-off site. He handed out blue Warriors-themed “I Voted” stickers, posed for photos with fans, and talked about basketball.
Julian E.J. Sorapuru contributed to the reporting of this story.