This election season, when I volunteered as a poll worker on Election Day, I was inspired by people who took their first steps towards civic engagement. This included a man in his forties who admitted he had never voted before.
Because I had to record the number of voided ballots, I became hyper aware of the times people made mistakes on their ballots, and how sorry they looked for no reason when asking for another. If you make a mistake, you can request one or two replacement ballots. Make sure you vote exactly the way you want to.
Civic engagement is scary, but it doesn’t have to be
Voting can seem complicated and scary when there are words like “absentee ballot” or “provisional ballot” thrown in. Through interviews, I became familiar with a particular sentiment of voter hesitation. People were afraid to vote because they did not feel strongly for any candidate, or feared voting for the “wrong” candidate in hindsight. But there is no wrong way to vote!
Building a history of voting and making it a habit are never wrong.
We should not let this fear keep us from learning more about new topics or challenge our existing assumptions.
Asian Americans especially are bent on doing things perfectly the first time. However, in civic engagement, we must normalize making mistakes, from literal ones on the ballot to bigger ones that affect our community.
For instance, I see issues in New York City that impact me every day, such as the rising rates of homelessness, the lack of transportation alternatives, and COVID-19’s detrimental effect on the economy. There is no single politician that can solve all or any of these issues. Plus turning out at the polls is not sufficient to fix these issues.
Nevertheless, voting is still a necessary step in having someone express my concerns and get a conversation going.
The perfect candidate does not exist
It is very rare to find a candidate we agree with perfectly or seems perfect to us. But settling for someone is better than doing nothing, which essentially means having no voice.
Joe Biden is far from the perfect presidential candidate. An L.A. Times article from last year scratched the surface of Biden’s questionable voting record in his 40 years of public service:
“Biden opposed school busing for desegregation in the 1970s […] voted for a measure aimed at outlawing gay marriage in the 1990s […and] was an ally of the banking and credit card industries. He chaired the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings that gave short shrift to the sexual harassment allegations raised by Anita Hill. He backed crime legislation that many blamed for helping fuel an explosion in prison populations.”
It’s easy to see the reduction of hateful rhetoric from the nation’s next leader as a win for Asian Americans. We are allowed to celebrate this win, yet continue to work hard towards a system of representation that doesn’t just minimally serve Asian Americans. We deserve leaders in government who actually uplift Asian Americans into leadership positions across all sectors of society, and who respect Asian American culture as part of American culture.
Even though Biden is an imperfect candidate with a history of non–progressive policies, we can trust that he learns from his mistakes. Nominating a woman of Asian and Black descent for Vice President is a promising sign.
The work is not done
As we accept Joe Biden’s mediocrity in the short term, paying attention to local elections will eventually pay off nationally.
An election happens somewhere every single year at the state and/or city level. In 2021 for example, New York City is choosing their new mayor and all of the city council members. New Jersey and Virginia are choosing their governors, and also have local city elections.
More immediately, the Georgia runoff election in January 2021 is a chance for Asian Americans to flip the Senate blue towards Democrats, paving the way for President–elect Joe Biden’s agenda and vision.
See also: Why the Asian American vote matters
If you’ve also witnessed firsthand how dysfunctional the voting process is where you live, you are in a good place to change that. Despite its reputation as a progressive beacon, New York’s election system is broken and outdated, with much room for streamlining and automation.
The state only just passed automatic voter registration this year, but the Governor still has not signed it. A proposal for same day voting registration will be voted on in November 2021 as a ballot referendum. If voters approve the referendum, lawmakers can pass a new law allowing same day voter registration.
We need to make voting as easy as it possibly can because it’s a gateway to bigger changes on the community level. This is more reason for New Yorkers to forcefully and diligently turn out at the polls again in one year.
Eventually, after much hard work and some mistakes along the way, changes can happen on a larger scale. We can effectively address homelessness, public transportation, and the local economy.
Change isn’t just for every four years. It can, and should, happen every day.
Featured photo credit: Elijah Nouvelage / Getty
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