Lisa Hazirjian, Ph.D., Win Together Consulting
It’s the end of a cold, wet Tuesday in November, and I step outside to drive to my polling place before they close. I navigate around a big puddle in the driveway, and then I see it: my right rear tire is flat. I pause – utter a few words I won’t repeat here – and contemplate my options. I check the time: just over 40 minutes until polls close. There’s a bus stop about a block away, but I don’t know the schedule and, more to the point, I know the local buses aren’t reliable, especially on days with bad weather. I don’t want to risk it, especially knowing that I can make it to my precinct polling site before closing time if I start walking now. But I’m already feeling damp and chilled out here in this lousy weather. Do I really want to go through all that to cast my vote?
I’d always loved the ritual of going to vote on Election Day, something I’d been doing since my mom took me along with her to vote in the school gymnasium when I was a little kid. But after that soggy voting experience, I realized that it’s the ritual of voting that matters, not the day I vote. And I promised myself to do whatever I could to avoid a situation like that one again and to encourage others to do the same.
So here I am, quite a few years later, urging you to MAKE A PLAN TO VOTE EARLY!
Sure, you probably won’t have a flat tire on Election Day, and it could turn out to be a beautiful day to walk to your polling site. But you could wake up that morning with norovirus. Or there could be an emergency at work or a family emergency. If there’s anything we’ve learned from living through a global pandemic, it’s that the best Plan A is one that leaves you options if you need a Plan B.
An early voting plan is that kind of Plan A.
Suppose, for example, you show up to vote and discover that there’s an issue with your voter registration. It happens a lot. Here in North Carolina, Early Voting is the ONLY period when you can register and vote at the same time. If you’ve moved since you last voted, you can update your registration with your new address during Early Voting. If you missed the registration deadline, you can register and vote at the same time. If, unbeknownst to you, your prior registration has been purged from the voting rolls (as can happen if you haven’t voted in a while), you can re-register on the spot at an Early Voting site. If you recently registered at the DMV while getting your license and it’s not in the system at your polling place, you can register and vote at the same time. That’s why Early Voting in North Carolina is sometimes called One Stop Early Voting – as long as you show proof of residency, you can register and vote in one stop during Early Voting!
In contrast, if you wait until Election Day to vote and encounter an issue with your registration, your only remaining option is to cast a provisional ballot and possibly need to take additional steps in order for your ballot to count. And if you wind up in the wrong place to vote, you may need to do the same thing.
That’s exactly what happened to a voter I met outside my polling site around 7:20 p.m. on Election Day in 2016. I vote in a precinct that’s also an Early Voting location and as a result, many people from across the county show up there on Election Day thinking they can vote only to be turned away with instructions to go to their correct site. That’s because on Election Day you MUST vote at your assigned precinct polling location, whereas during the Early Voting period, you can vote at ANY early voting location in your county. I’ve been an Election Day volunteer at my polling place in one capacity or another for at least a half dozen election cycles and by my estimation, at least one in five of the people who’ve shown up on Election Day have been in the wrong place. Invariably, some of those people don’t have time to get to the proper polling site either because they have other obligations that take precedence, such as picking up children or getting to work, or because the polls are about to close.
We already have enough people in North Carolina with their own cautionary tales about Election Day voting. Rather than take the chance, take the time now to create your own Early Voting Plan using this tool, which includes links to all the information you’ll need to make sure your vote counts in this election. That way, you’ll have a Plan A that lets you address any issues right away and that leaves you extra time in case it’s cold and rainy on the day you planned to vote early, and – drat – you wind up with a flat.
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help nonprofits, campaigns, and social justice organizations develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School.