Things I Wish I Had Known As A First Time Voter | The Triangle

Things I Wish I Had Known As A First Time Voter

I turned 18 this summer, which means that I was able to vote for the first time this year—right in time for the midterm elections. I’m sure we have all seen the headlines, but for those who avoid any mention of politics like the plague, the Pennsylvania midterms were extremely, extremely important to the nation this year, which was rather daunting as a first time voter. Nevertheless, on the fateful day of Nov. 8, I found myself in my hometown going to the voting center (held in a suspiciously random building I swear I have never seen before) with my mother. I was a girl on a mission—I was going to contribute to our democracy, and I was going to get a sticker. What could go wrong, right?

Well, obviously I would have nothing to write about if it had all been smooth sailing. As a first-time voter, I needed to present my ID in order to get my ballot. I brought my (completely valid, recently renewed) passport to do so. 

However, when I showed my passport to my local poll workers, they refused to accept it because it did not have my address on it. They asked to see my drivers license instead, and I had to explain I do not have a driver’s license or permit. The dilemma went through multiple poll workers, all of whom decided that my passport did not count as proper ID for a valid vote.

Concerningly, they even offhandedly shared that there was a girl who “had the same problem”earlier, and she was unable to properly vote—her ballot was made provisional, which basically means it is up to the discretion of the county board. They offered to allow me to vote provisionally with my passport as well, but could not guarantee my vote would count.

Luckily for me, my mother was there with me, and was able to help me contact my father, who sent a photograph of my voting confirmation (which did have my address on it). I then showed this and was able to get my ballot and vote. Also, I did in fact get my sticker, which is now proudly displayed on my phone case.

When we got home, my mother did a quick internet search to confirm what we already knew: A passport is a perfectly valid ID to show as a first-time voter, address or not. In fact, you don’t even have to own a photo I.D. to vote. There is a list of eligible forms of identification which I will link below, ranging from a Student I.D. (which would also not have an address) to a current utility bill. Not only was I given a hard time and incorrect information, but the other girl who experienced the same thing as I did could have her vote deemed invalid for this election when she did nothing wrong.

In my situation, this issue was frustrating but completely fixable. Still, it can be a bit scary to think about how if the stars had aligned in a perfectly wrong way, my ability to vote in this election could have been somehow compromised—or, at the very least, been made much more difficult. The fact of the matter is, regardless of how minor the mistakes are, voting should not be made unnecessarily difficult for anyone, least of all those who just gained the right and are undoubtedly nervous about the responsibility. It’s concerning to me that the poll workers did not even know the simplest of state laws, and it is even more concerning that this lack of knowledge almost prevented me from having a say in this election, which I cared very deeply about the results of.

There is so much talk about how our generation does not vote, and then the system turns around and makes it more difficult for us. As the years go past, the number of young people getting their driver’s permits and licenses has been steadily declining. The numbers clearly show it. Poll workers don’t even have to adapt to this change; they simply have to understand the rules in place and there should not be any problem with other forms of identification listed as eligible.

The right to vote is ours. However, we should have the knowledge we need to stand up for ourselves in the face of unnecessary conflict. I wish I had felt confident enough in my knowledge to argue more for my own right, even if they had refused to listen. It takes practically no time to read up on voting requirements in your state, whether it be PA or elsewhere, and I would encourage any voter to do so before the next election; for example, try Pennsylvania’s approved forms of identification for first time voters. Knowing your rights makes it much harder for others to infringe upon them, even if they try, so please give yourself an understanding so that you may have the voice that you deserve.