Powerless. That’s how I normally feel on a Monday morning, but with Election Day approaching quickly, I woke up especially lost.
Hoping to follow my civic responsibilities, I requested my absentee ballot in August and submitted it nearly a month before Election Day. 10 days after I mailed my ballot, I began to panic. I waited a few more days, anxious while reading headlines about delays in the United States Postal Service and dozens of stories about stolen or destroyed ballots. After calling three different officials at my local election commission, I finally talked with the person I needed — who told me to tough it out and wait. I learned that short of making the 12-hour round trip ride home — hoping that my three jobs and classes would allow me to fill out a provisional ballot — I just had to hope for the best that my ballot would be received on time.
Scarred by the headlines of ballot boxes set ablaze and stolen mail, I had zero hope that my ballot arrived. I assumed I was part of the unlucky 3.5-4.9% of mail-in voters whose ballots are lost forever. Today, I checked the tracker again and finally saw that glorious green checkmark next to the words “Ballot Received.”
Working perfectly through a flawed system does not guarantee perfect outcomes. I felt like I failed my most basic civic duty, even while taking as many measures as possible to make sure my voice was heard loud and clear. However, when I assumed my ballot disappeared, instead of wallowing, I took action. I had difficult dialogues with family members and explained down-ballot issues to anyone who would listen. While phone banking, I left dozens of voice messages on voting information in a swing state whose classification as a battleground has only been amplified by lawsuits and discarded ballots.
By engaging behind the scenes of the electoral process, I have a deeper understanding of the value of voting, but I have also felt how insignificant that vote may feel when the country is facing one of its most high-stakes elections during a pandemic. The solution to this disconnect? Treat every day like Election Day, or better yet, treat every day like you believe your voice will never be heard.
Our votes matter more when we consistently commit to our civic duty during the four years between presidential elections. The next presidents, governors and other public officials will determine who gets desperately needed COVID relief, but we can do the next best thing to reduce deaths: stay at home as the country reaches a record-high number of deaths and a third wave. As disinformation tears apart at the fabric of our democracy, we can debunk conspiracy theories for family and friends, and possibly even more important, we can fact check posts before we share them on social media.
According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is more likely than other generations to wish for an activist government, meaning one that is more involved in solving the nation’s problems. More than ever, I agree with this sentiment, but I also firmly believe that we have to continue to be involved in solving the nation’s problems as well. Being an active citizen means far more than simply showing up at the polls. It’s never too late to make your voice count, even after the polls close.
Katie Dames is the opinion editor from Saint Louis, Mo., majoring in international studies.