First-time (almost) voter

Yazmin Tellez, first time voter Courtesy Photo

By Yazmin Tellez

I was very excited to be a first-time voter for the 2018 midterm elections. After I registered online and stayed up a few nights researching the running candidates, I woke up early on Election Day, excited to go out and vote. Later, I learned I was not able to vote, but I could have.

In 2016, I didn’t understand the importance of voting and I wasn’t interested in politics.

Recently, I read the news and felt distrust for the government. I question the immigration policies and processes, especially with the migrant caravan.

This year I wanted to cast my vote, make my voice heard, and set an example for other Latinos who have the right to vote.

As I entered the polling station at First Presbyterian Church of Lehigh Acres, I was already thinking of who I was going to vote for.  As soon as I walked in, I showed a poll worker the screenshot of my voter registration application on my phone.  He pointed out that my first name was spelled differently on my driver’s license and voter registration. (The registration is correct. My Drivers Ed teacher submitted a misspelled name to the Tax Collector and I never corrected it.)

It got worse. I had not finished registering to vote.

I thought I had registered a few weeks prior to Election Day. When I clicked “submit application”, I thought I was done.

What I didn’t know was that I left out a crucial step: to print, sign and deliver the application to the Supervisor of Elections office.

I could have double-checked online if I was registered. I did not.

I was not in the system, so I left.

The polling place was busy with many voters so I felt uncomfortable asking the poll worker how to finish my application. He didn’t offer any additional information either.

It was like I showed up for a concert and my ticket was not valid. The ticket taker turned me away and no one asked me which name was real.

I found out later that I had other options.

The poll worker did not offer me a provisional ballot. I did not know to ask.

Hours after I left the polling place, I learned about the provisional ballot through Instagram.

Jorge Ramos, a journalist, posted a picture on his Instagram story explaining what the provisional ballot was.

A provisional ballot is a fail-safe mechanism for voters with uncertain eligibility who arrive at the polls on Election Day. The voter fills out a ballot which is counted after the election, when their eligibility is confirmed. It ensures voters are not excluded due to an administrative error. Every voter has a right to request one.

After the polls closed, I learned that as a first-time voter, I had to learn the rules, follow them and most importantly demand my rights.

Bianca Sosa, 20, has voted since she turned eighteen.

“Growing up, my parents taught me the importance of voting. As soon as I turned 18 my dad took me to the nearest voter registration place and helped me with the process of registering myself,” said Sosa. “With the help of my parents, I was able to cast my vote in the 2016 elections.”

Not growing up in a family that has voted before makes it harder for Latinos to go out and vote.

I grew up in a house where no one had the right to cast a vote until recently.

My father, siblings and I became U.S. citizens in 2016, finally getting our right to vote.

No one in my family had experienced the voting process. I wasn’t urged to go out to vote as others were.

As I learned the voting process, my parents learned with me.

Unfortunately, I was not able to cast my vote in 2018, but now I am officially registered and I will be voting in 2020.

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