The first time I voted in Kentucky, the election official sitting in a metal folding chair close to my electronic station noticed I was having trouble with the knobs. “Need some help there,” he said. And when I told him I was new here he proceeded to show me that the knobs worked opposite from what seemed logical.
After I finished voting he grinned and whispered, “Never trust the machine. Always use a paper ballot, that way there’s a trail.”
That was November 8, 2016. It was 8:30 a.m. And I was the only voter there.
I am not alleging fraud here. My one vote in Anderson County, which went 72 percent for Donald Trump, was of little consequence. I am telling you this story because I’ve moved 31 times and lived in six other states—Missouri, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, California—and Kentucky is by far the most difficult state I’ve ever voted in.
My polling place is close to my house, but I teach at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, a good one-hour drive during rush hour. I could try to vote before work, but what if I had kids to get to school or some other preclusion? I can’t vote on my lunch hour (too far away). And forget leaving work in time to make it to the polls before six.
To say I am concerned about the upcoming election on November 5 is an understatement, not only due to our limited hours to cast a vote, but for the issues that spur people to the polls.
Everybody talks a good game about the economy being the primary reason for voting—It’s the economy, stupid!—but the joke’s on us. People don’t tend to vote on kitchen-table issues like jobs and healthcare, and we all know it. People vote on emotional issues, and in Kentucky that issue is abortion.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 Midterms, I canvassed for Lt. Col. Amy McGrath. If I knocked on a door and the homeowner said no, they were not voting for Amy, a good 90 percent of the time the answer to my question of why was singular: “Abortion at nine months.”
This was, and remains, false. No woman has an “abortion” at the end of a pregnancy. They give birth. And then, based on the health (or lack thereof) of the baby after it’s born, parents are sometimes faced with one of the most devastating decisions they will ever make. A decision that has no business being forced on them by the government.
So why was this issue—an issue not based in any medical or moral reality—the number one, if not the sole, reason for how they cast their vote?
I would argue this: It is much easier to feel like you’re doing one seemingly righteous thing than to have to confront the overwhelming barrage of real-world problems facing our families and our neighbors, and vote accordingly.
According to U.S. News and World Report, Kentucky ranks an embarrassing 10th from the bottom, 40th out of the 50 states, with a median household income of $26,779. I would like Gov. Matt Bevin, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and other elected officials to tell us how our families are supposed to thrive, or even survive, on this in 2019?
Kentucky’s detailed rankings are even worse:
#44 Economic Opportunity
#45 Fiscal Stability
#43 Pre-K through 12
#43 Higher Education
#47 Healthcare Quality
#46 Public Health
I think a lot about the families behind those doors I knocked on for McGrath in 2018, many in the poorer sections of the county, and it infuriates me to see them hoodwinked by politicians and preachers into voting on one issue that has zero to do with their jobs, income, healthcare, education, or the futures of their children.
I spent a decade in California. I voted in person one time. I voted by mail, at my leisure, while sitting at my kitchen table, weeks in advance. That’s how easy voting should be.
Why do Kentuckians vote from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.? I can only conclude that our current elected officials do not care to make voting any more accessible. That, in fact, they prefer we do not vote.
Kentucky deserves better. You deserve better. Which is why I beg you, somehow some way, to get out there and vote on November 5. Vote on the real issues. And show them they work for you.