Citizens of the United States of America have finished exercising their right to vote in what is likely to be an election with the highest turnout in more than 100 years. Taking advantage of in-person early voting and by mail, nearly 100 million Americans had cast their ballots even before the polls opened on November 3. That staggering number adds up to nearly three-quarters of the total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.
360° Context: The 2020 US Election Explained
Another 60 million or so voted on Election Day, making the total number of citizens who voted reach nearly 160 million, according to CNBC estimates. This works out to a historic 66.8% of the 239.2 million Americans eligible to vote in 2020.
These people had one reason to participate in the democratic process. They wanted their vote to count. They wanted their ballot to be counted. Intellectually, it is easy to rationalize the logic that a person exercising their franchise wants their voice heard. That rationale took a far more significant meaning when I got a chance to observe the face, the countenance and emotions of a person when they showed up at a vote center and said, “I would like to vote.”
Listening to Voters
I worked as an election officer in my local county for the 2020 elections and had the opportunity to observe first-hand nearly 1,500 people who stopped by at my vote center. What I experienced when I directly interacted with many of them made my usual intellectual rationale pale in significance, allowing me to viscerally appreciate the importance of every single vote.
It was heartwarming to observe a nonagenarian lady and her septuagenarian daughter come in together to cast their vote — the daughter assisting her mother with the process.
There was an elderly lady who required the assistance of her husband, a mobility walking aid device and a portable oxygen tank in order for her to come to the vote center and drop off her vote-by-mail envelope. She could have dropped it in one of the 100 ballot boxes the county had set up. Yet for this lady, it was important to come to a vote center — even if it meant taking one small step at a time from the parking lot — and be assured that her vote would count by an election official before dropping her envelope in the proper bag.
There was an octogenarian man who was not comfortable coming into the vote center due to COVID-19. We assisted him by setting up a polling station out in the open so he could exercise his right to vote. Despite being worried about his health and the pandemic, this old man decided to come in person and ensure that his voice was heard.
Worried that using the United States Postal Service may not get their ballot to their county in time, an older couple was willing to drive more than 400 miles in order to drop off their ballot in their county of residence. Thankfully, we were able to assure them that dropping their vote-by-mail envelope in our vote center would ensure their ballot would reach the appropriate county and their vote counted.
Another person who was concerned that the vote-by-mail envelope she had mailed had not been recorded in the system made several phone calls to various people — including Senator Kamala Harris’ office — before deciding to come to a vote center to understand what had happened. In her conversation with me, she kept repeating, “All I want is for my vote to count.” Thankfully, we were also able to assist her and allay her fears that her voice would not be heard in what she felt was “the most important election she has ever voted in.”
Yet another person who works for the city but registered to vote in a neighboring county that was a couple of hours drive away accosted me when I was taking a break to get some fresh air. Explaining his special circumstances, he clarified with me exactly how he could vote. Once he understood the process, I could hear him talking to his manager asking for time off on Election Day so he could drive to his county and exercise his franchise.
Living in one of the most diverse counties in America, we were also able to assist several monolingual voters with the process. One of our bilingual aides spent nearly an hour assisting a first-time voter who only spoke Spanish. Another aide assisted a Vietnamese family who were somewhat overwhelmed by the voting process.
Every Vote Counts
These are only a handful of the many instances when I could sense the palpable concern of the voter who needed to be assured that despite efforts by the sitting president to discredit the democratic process, their voice would be heard.
I am just one average citizen, living in one corner of America, but one who actively participated in the elections this year. My eyes misted over on more than one occasion when I interacted with people who braved many personal challenges, be it physical, emotional or a linguistic one, in order to exercise their democratic right. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people across the length and breadth of the country had to overcome their own personal obstacles in order to cast their vote in this election.
As I cleared my thoughts and got back to my job after each moving interaction I experienced, one aspect became crystal clear: that every vote matters. And every vote that has been cast must be counted. Whether it is in a blue state or a red state. Whether it is in a battleground state where the incumbent is leading or the challenger is leading. Even if it takes several days, in order to uphold the fundamentals of democracy, every vote that has been cast must be counted.
As that one voter put it, “All I want is for my vote to count.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.