On Tuesday, my 18-year-old daughter voted in her first election.
She, with thousands of others who on average were not much older than she, stood in a line that wound around the Provo Recreation Center’s hallways and parking lot. Standing in the cold and dark, they were endangered by scores of passing cars looking for parking spaces that did not exist. Curbside parking was jammed for blocks around.
I know, because I brought my daughter dinner at 7 p.m. I met her at a point in the line where she was told it would be four more hours before she could vote. The only consolation given the crowd was that because they were in line before 8 p.m., they would get to vote — if it took all night. On the one hand, the scene was inspiring, all these youths sacrificing time and comfort, even sleep, to do their civic duty. As I walked along the line, I felt to shake everyone’s hand to congratulate them for taking our democracy seriously. On the other hand, how is it that our elections board gets it so wrong? One polling place for so many voters? Elections are too precious, especially now with so many threats from foreign enemies and domestic liars, for this kind of ineptitude.
How many on Tuesday night were turned away by the daunting, snaking lines? How many gave up because they could not find a parking space? How many first-time voters missed their opportunity to participate in American democracy? And how many may not try again? Crowded polling places discriminate against the young without permanent addresses to vote by mail, against the working class who can only vote after quitting time when lines are longest, and against the poor who do not own cars. One should not have to suffer cruel and unusual punishments to merely vote. If we lose faith in free and fair elections, we will have lost what is most sacred in our American experiment.3 comments on this story
As I walked back to my car as the 8 p.m. deadline loomed, I stepped off the sidewalk as another young couple ran toward the polls pushing a stroller. There is hope in our youths, who appear to be more committed to their civic responsibility than are our elected officials whose scarce polling places and wildly gerrymandered districts suggest they are more interested in choosing their voters than in making it possible for their voters to choose them. While voting by mail is a convenience for many and offers advantages to efficiency and even informed voting, we cannot disenfranchise much of the rest of the electorate by neglect, even if unintentional. The lieutenant governor’s office and staff need to plan for elections as if everyone might show up, both because they could and because elections are that important.
We commend our fellow citizens who volunteer each election to work in the polls. Their service is invaluable. But we call on our elected officials to make Utah a place where voting is not an off-putting burden but a time for celebration.