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Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin

It’s time to exercise. No, not to do burpees — unless you want to. We’re talking about exercising your right to vote. Actually, you barely even have to move — at least if you vote by mail.

Election Day 2020 is coming in hotttt! We sat down (well, Zoomed — there’s a pandemic, after all) with Debra Cleaver, founder and CEO of VoteAmerica, to get answers to our burning questions about voting and Election Day.

Learn why every vote matters (even if you don’t live in a swing state!), what you need to be doing right now to prepare to cast your ballot, how to combat voter unease (’cause we’re all feelin’ it), and how to fight back against voter suppression tactics.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.

The reason it’s important for everyone to exercise their vote is that democracy is a system of government under which marginalized communities are most likely to thrive — not guaranteed to thrive, but this is the only system of government in which everyone has a fighting chance.

This is the only system of government in which everyone has a fighting chance.

And this only works if people participate, which is why people work so hard to keep you from participating.

Why do we vote? So we have democracy. Why does democracy matter? Because our democracy is a shared agreement, and it’s an agreement that people are trying to break right now. Right now, in 2020, it’s clear that there are people who would no longer like to exist in that system.

Another reason is that we know there’s going to be hostile foreign interference. We’ve never gone into an election knowing that. And it is simply harder to rig or undermine an election when more people vote.

That’s not to be alarmist. We really do know that there’s active Russian interference in our elections, which is just bananas. The only way we can counter that is by increasing turnout.

A lot of people for a long time had been like, “My vote doesn’t matter.” But that’s actually a voter suppression talking point. It’s something people say specifically to reduce turnout.

The fact that people are working double time to suppress the vote is all you need to know about how much your individual vote matters.

I think the fact that people are working double time to suppress the vote is all you need to know about how much your individual vote matters.

Also, if you live in a state that isn’t considered a swing state for the presidential election, it’s important to remember that there are 519,000 elected officials in the United States — not just one. And there is absolutely a statewide election or a citywide election or a local election on your ballot in November. And your votes absolutely matter.

People should decide if they want to vote by mail this year or if they want to vote in person. There are three ways you can vote. You can vote by mail, you can vote early, or you can vote on Election Day.

If you want to vote by mail, then it’s time to request your mail-in ballot. Go to VoteAmerica, and we’ll walk you through the process. If you want to vote early, we have all the early voting start and end dates on our site.

If you think you’re already registered to vote, just double check. Because if you’re not, you still have time to fix it.

I recommend people make sure they have the ID they need to vote in their state. And we have all these things on our website. And then we always tell people, if you have an in-state driver’s license or an in-state ID, that’s what you should use. But if you don’t, then you’re going to want to have one photo ID and one piece of paper that shows your name and your address.

We should all be heartened by the fact that I think we’re going to have record turnout despite the challenges of this year… The turnout in the primaries has been phenomenal.

Save the election protection hotline number in your phone: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

These things can be overwhelming. And I always tell people to keep it simple. You know what? You don’t have to research every ballot measure. If you don’t know a ballot measure, skip it.

One thing I always find very comforting is that there’s nothing more secure than voting on paper. And with all these people voting by mail, we’re going to have more paper ballots than we’ve had in a long time.

And I think we should all be heartened by the fact that I think we’re going to have record turnout despite the challenges of this year. I mean, the turnout in the primaries has been phenomenal.

The safest way to vote during a pandemic is to vote by mail. And if people have concerns about their ballot not being counted because it didn’t arrive in time, we’re telling everyone to hand-deliver it [if your state allows]. You can drop off your ballot in person to your local election official, and nine states have drop boxes.

I’m voting by mail. I just don’t see any reason to choose between my health and my vote. And people don’t have to.

I’m voting by mail. I just don’t see any reason to choose between my health and my vote. And people don’t have to. Almost every state at this point, even states that require an excuse to vote by mail, is accepting COVID-19 as a reason.

If you’ve been thrown off by this nonsense that Trump says about vote by mail, 33 million people voted by mail in 2016. And we didn’t hear a word about vote by mail not being secure until 4 weeks ago.

But if you do vote in person, it’s so important to wear a mask and make sure you’re at least 6 feet from other people.

Voter suppression is a real thing in America, and it’s targeted primarily at people of color. And after people of color, young people.

Voter ID laws themselves are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist unless the problem is Black and brown people voting. Because if we really just wanted people to have IDs, states could send every registered voter an ID.

To give you an example of the way young people are targeted: A lot of states won’t accept a student ID as an ID, even if you go to a state school. In Texas, if you go to the University of Texas at Austin, the ID is issued by the state of Texas, and Texas doesn’t consider it a state-issued ID. But they’ll accept your gun license.

And felony disenfranchisement is absolutely a form of voter suppression. The rules for voting in the exact same election vary state by state.

So you have places like California, where as soon as you’re done with your term, with your parole, your probation, you can register to vote again. Florida fights tooth and nail against it. The end result is that 1 in 5 Black adults in Florida can’t vote. They pay taxes and have jobs, but they can’t vote — whereas in Maine you can vote if you’re in prison right now, which is actually common in a lot of countries. Citizens are citizens. Citizens can vote at all times.

When we close in-person polling locations, they’re disproportionately closed in neighborhoods of color. So when a state like Kentucky decides to close polls, it’s not in the suburbs. It’s only in urban centers, which creates things like in Louisville earlier this year — 600,000 people were expected to vote at a single polling place.

If someone tells you you’re not registered when you get there, demand a provisional ballot. They have to give you a provisional ballot, but they can’t turn you away at the polls — no matter what’s happening. If someone is like, “You don’t have what you need,” then you demand a provisional ballot. And you generally have a few days after the election to follow up with your ID. It’s called ballot curing.

The first time I voted, I voted on a provisional ballot because 18-year-old me did not realize there were designated polling places. So I just went to the polling place on the south side of campus instead of the north side.

The number one thing is you don’t get out of line. You don’t accept “no” for an answer. You demand a provisional ballot, and then you take the steps necessary to make sure it was counted. And you call the election protection hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).