After class Monday afternoon, I hurried to my car and waded through Atlanta traffic for an hour to get home in Lilburn, Georgia (a city we teenagers ironically call Thrill-burn). Usually, my weekly trips home from college consist of annoying my younger brother and satiating my craving for a home-cooked meal with my family. Monday was special though — it was Halloween.
At nearly 20, I’m decidedly too old to trick-or-treat, so this Halloween, I did something different. I voted for the first time.
Getting the right to vote
On Feb. 12, 2016, I stood in a room with more than 100 other people and officially became an American citizen. On Oct. 31, my grandparents, parents and I all went to the polls to cast our first-ever ballots and fulfill our civic duties as Americans, family-style.
Despite having just gotten my citizenship and not being old enough to vote for long before that, I’ve always been politically active. After having phone-banked and canvassed numerous times without actually being able to cast a ballot, it felt wonderful to actually walk into the building where I used to go for swim lessons as a child and vote with the rest of my family.
My father and another South Asian man nodded at one another as we walked out of the building, as if acknowledging the other’s act.
My family and I all put our “Georgia voter” stickers on our shirts, and I stopped a stranger so I could get a picture of us together. I then of course took a selfie on Snapchat and captioned it “proud to be a nasty woman.”
Would my vote matter?
As much as I would have loved to vote in the 2008 and 2012 elections, this year’s is a particularly special election. As a woman who is not constitutionally permitted to run for certain offices because I’m a naturalized citizen, I smiled as I clicked Hillary Clinton’s name on the screen. I went through the list and made my other picks as well — for Congress and local offices, positions whose importance are lost among the ubiquity of the presidential campaigns. After completing the list of items, I reviewed my ballot one last time before clicking “Cast Ballot” in high-contrast letters.
I wondered for the umpteenth time if it would even have mattered if I had clicked the wrong name. After all, my electoral district’s fate was more or less predetermined by the state senate anyhow, and it seemed the rest of the Georgia’s was, too.
Maybe this year will be different, though. I keep reading articles about how it’s possible that Georgia will swing this year, which speaks to the contestation of ideologies and values in this election. But I’m not sure if I believe it. And would it even matter if my likely-red district turned blue this election? Outside of metro Atlanta, the districts will probably be red, and if the majority of districts are, then by flaw of the single-member district system that all but two U.S. states use to award their electoral votes, my vote would mean next to nothing in the presidential race.
Making it count anyway
As I cast my ballot, I thought of the injustice for the people who, despite being registered and wanting to have their votes counted, would be unable to vote. Yes, poll taxes and literacy tests have been removed, but because election day is not a national holiday, active voter suppression still occurs when blue-collar workers are unable to leave work to vote or when people can’t transport themselves to the polls because of a lack of public transportation. In fact, if early voting didn’t exist, I would have had to miss three classes to vote in my district on election day, something many students and workers can’t afford to do.
I realize I’ve spent many hours criticizing a country that my family has been trying to become a part of for more than a decade, but as parents only admonish their children because they want them to improve, I criticize my country because I want it to grow.
This week, I voted out of passion for one candidate, a brilliant woman who has worked toward this her whole life, and out of fear of another whose bigotry and misogyny threatens my gender, my status as an immigrant, my rights over my own body and my Muslim religion. I voted so that when my younger brother votes or when I vote next, we’ll feel like we have a choice between a few decent candidates, not just one blindingly obvious one. I voted and wrote this not because I’m filled with spite for this country, but because I want the country in which I grew up to now grow with me.
Sania, 19, is a sophomore at Emory University.
This op-ed was originally published in VOXATL.com, a nonprofit youth media organization in Atlanta. (Youth Today’s managing editor is the founder of and a consultant with VOX.)