In October of 2008, my dad called my brother and me up to his room. His voice was a pitch higher than normal, revealing an urgency that I didn’t understand. As a news anchor blared in the background, he began to make his request: “We have different views on politics and how the government ought to operate. I’m sorry for the times I raised my voice over those issues. Next month, however, you are both going to come to the polls with me. I want you there with me as I cast my ballot for the first Black president of the USA. Mark my words, he will be a one-term president due to the backlash he’ll receive as a black man leading the USA.”
My father’s request confused me. I wasn’t 18, I hadn’t started high school, and I could not vote. What did it matter if I was there with him when he cast his own vote? Regardless of who a person votes for, my father was teaching me the importance of being civically engaged and casting your vote.
In the words of the great John Lewis, who led the Selma march for voting rights, “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.” My father was teaching me that by not being involved in politics, you are accepting the way the world currently works.
What happens in politics feels distant and disconnected from my everyday life. At the heart of the issue is that politics influences whether or not the air I breathe is clean, the price of food as I go to the grocery store, my ability to access healthcare, and the funding that my local public school receives. Politicians respond to the needs of voters, and forget about the needs of non-voters.
In 2012, the first year I was eligible to vote, I pridefully took to the polls to vote Barrack Obama in for his second term in office, proving my father wrong. The typical wisdom that accompanies advice about voting prizes national elections. Back then, I didn’t know that it is local elected officials who have more of an influence on your environment. Local elected officials decide how much of the budget goes to healthcare, policing, public parks, and food security programs. Those local elections are decided by very small numbers of votes, so your vote is a loud voice screaming out about what matters to you.
How do you make your voice heard? Request your mail-in ballot at this link or text “Vote Penn” to 34444. There’s even a text-based helpline if you have questions about your registration process, or you can dial 866-OUR-VOTE for help in many different languages.
After you request your mail in ballot, you can learn how to properly fill in a mail-in ballot, and track your ballot to ensure it is counted. If election day arrives and you haven’t received confirmation that your vote was counted, you can go to your local polling station and submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is counted once the election office verifies that your mail-in ballot was not already received and tallied.
Since 2020 has been an enormously challenging year for society as a whole, many people are expected to turn out and vote in November. Get personalized voting information to compare candidates without being influenced by their campaign ads and see questions that they personally answered.
Zonía R. Moore is an MD Candidate at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.