Election Day: Who Didn’t Vote

apathyI voted early. When Election Day came, I had the freedom to mount a one-to-one GOTV (Get Out the Vote) effort.

Early on the morning of 8 November, I visited my local gas station, a franchise operated by an immigrant family from Bhutan. They’d arrived seven years ago as political asylees, gotten their green card as Permanent Residents, and then after the five-year waiting period, applied for and earned their citizenship. I knew them as well as one can from frequent trips and friendly exchanges.

I bought gas and chatted with one of the brothers at check-out.

“Remember to vote today,” I said.

“Oh yes,” he said nodding.

It was morning and polls would be open for another ten hours. I took his affirmation halfway seriously, knowing from experience that asylees and refugees took their citizenship status as a far greater responsibility than many of my native-born neighbors. I was betting on his commitment.

Next, I drove to the nearby Walgreens and bought a few odds and ends. I made eye contact with a new cashier named Antoinette. We chatted as she scanned my purchases and then I started my GOTV conversation.

“I hope you’re going to vote today,” I said lightly and with a smile.

Antoinette shook her head and said “No.”

“No?,” I asked wondering why not.

“I’m a Christian,” she says. “It’s complicated.”

“Oh, I respect that you don’t plan to vote,” (this was a lie; how could she not vote?), “I’ve just never heard of religion preventing someone from voting.”

Antoinette, a tall black woman in her thirties, smiled and said, “We’ll talk about it someday.” There were people lining up behind me. The transaction was complete. I left the store puzzled, and hoping she would change her mind.

The day before, I made arrangements to take an old friend to the polls. She was diagnosed with early dementia, and no longer drove. Her partner and I texted the particulars. I showed up at her home and knocked. No answer. I knocked again. Silence. I called. No response.

That evening I received a text from her partner, assuring me that both had voted. She was not sure what happened with the failed pick-up.

I drove to my brothers’ and hung around for an hour. He’d had a doctor’s appointment in the morning and called me after to report that he’d fulfilled his civic duty. “There was nobody there,” he said of his voting place.

He and I had talked many times about the election, the candidates, the issues. He’s a retired union guy, a true blue Democrat, but his union buddies were discarding their Democrat card to vote for the GOP nominee. I grew up in a home where my father discussed union politics over the dinner table. I knew it as a deeply cohesive group. The peer pressure on him via Facebook was heavy and universally pro-Trump.

As I left in the afternoon, my brother hugged me and said, “I hope your gal wins.”

Was it a slip of the tongue, a genuine wish that slipped out in the moment of the hug to betray his real allegiance? My “gal” was his gal, or so I thought.

As dinnertime neared, I called my buddy in the woods. She was at the county recycling center, dropping off her waste. She assured me she’d voted. Hers is a red county – rural Florida where bolts of hay and black cows are more numerous than residents.

The election results came pouring in. Florida was in abeyance but I watched as state after state turned into Trump victories. I was sick. Numb. Speechless. And finally, Florida was called.

It’s been ten days.

I know Antoinette did not vote, leaving our fates in her God’s hands. Did my three lesbian friends vote? Did the immigrant family? And what about my brother – did he abstain or did he vote with his buddies?

Unions. Lesbians. Immigrants. Black women. These were the electorate of Hillary Clinton.

What happened?

I can barely accept the results. I am just beginning to ask why. Maybe it’s just life. Christians weren’t moved to look outside their bubble of belief; lesbians assumed she would win; my union brother was sick of it all; the immigrants felt no mandate.

There’s something to be said about the long and ugly length of the campaign and people’s short attention span. It’s the same apathy that thwarts people from reading. And that apathy mirrors a complacency – the complacency of a democracy – where citizens believe all will be well, regardless of the chief executive. A complacency that assumes democracy is here to stay. This election may prove them wrong.


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