Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*When an unarmed Michael Brown was shot multiple times and killed by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson last August, residents in that area said they were determined to make a change first by civil protests then by electing new leadership in November.

Yet all the talk about showing up in full force to the polls in Ferguson so far has been just that – talk. St. Louis County Board of Elections reported only 128 new people registered to vote between Aug. 9 and Oct.6, the two months between when Brown was killed and the cut off date to register for the November election.

In July 2013 when Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law helped George Zimmerman get away with murdering Trayvon Martin, it wasn’t too long before people in more than twenty other states realized they too, had a version of Stand Your Ground. And incidents with racial overtones were being defended by that same law. Those people vowed to fight the law at the polls come election day.

More than 886,000 Floridians registered to vote in 2012 the year Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, the interest in the political process most likely was fueled by Stand Your Ground. Between 2013 and September of 2014 only half as many new voters registered, an indication that – despite pervasive racial incidents there – the desire to force change might have been short lived.

Even I promised to do my part. I took a class to become a Texas assistant registrar, able to register voters in my county by going door-to-door and setting up registration booths at events. It was my way of doing what I could to inform more people and get them registered for the November general election.

Early voting has begun in the District of Columbia and only 32 states. I cast my early vote last week in Texas. Early voting is the process whereby registered voters can show up to the polls days in advance of the official Election Day and cast their vote. Unlike absentee ballots that are collected via mail, you don’t have to have an excuse to participate in early voting. Why are there some states that don’t have early voting? Or why Florida (of all places) has shortened its early voting from 14 to 8 days should be under investigation. Allowing every registered person the chance to vote should be a fundamental goal of every board of elections. Early voting seems like a no-brainer to me. The twelve hours set aside to vote on Election Day can be a challenge that keeps some away from the polls.

It was early voting in 2008 that helped then Sen. Barack Obama capture a majority of the popular and electoral vote to become America’s first black president. Republicans know this too. Now they claim early voting is too long, too expensive and opens the process to fraud. Never mind the probable millions of voters illegally turned away on Election Day for decades. And what about the hanging chad fiasco and stolen election of 2000? Republicans weren’t concerned enough about the voting process then. At least with early voting, if there’s a legitimate issue with a voter there’s time to address it and still be allowed to participate in the process.

But if people don’t take advantage of early voting, it’s just another reason some states will use to shorten it, end it or never start it. It’s evident some people don’t want you to vote to begin with. Keep the odds in your favor: Take advantage of early voting and tell your friends and family to do the same.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] to send comments, questions or for speaking inquiries.