It wasn’t until three weeks after the election that the Jackson County Board of Elections finally sat down for canvassing day. Until this year I wasn’t aware that canvassing day–a time after the election board members go one by one through questionable provisional ballots and determine which ones will count–existed. To me, provisional ballots existed in another realm where they kind of counted, but maybe only with a wink and a nod. To the contrary, provisional ballots are just as important as early voting, Election Day voting, and absentee voting. In other words, voting provisionally is 100 percent better than not voting at all.
In a county like ours, where this November the NC House of Representatives race came down to less than 200 votes, every vote counts. Sure, the Board knows who has won in a landslide if the total number of absentee and provisional ballots are exceeded by the number of votes cast for a particular candidate during in-person voting–that’s simple math. However, more often than most of us realize, many results are razor thin, and it’s those final-counted voices who sway an election.
Once again, I repeat, every vote matters. To give some context, think of an apple. Now think of the skin on the apple. The percentage of an apple’s skin is about .4 percent of the entire apple. The state of Michigan was won by Donald Trump by .3 percent–less than the skin of an apple. Several other states, as most of us have seen, were similarly contested.
During canvassing day, I sat at the board for four hours and watched them discuss the story behind each ballot–some were automatically declined due to NC statute, but some, such as the homeless man who didn’t have a physical address, went straight through. In total there were 367 provisional ballots that the board sorted through; many were counted and many were not.
The election in NC is not called until every county across the state goes through this same exact process. I can’t speak for any other county, but in Jackson County, every single vote which could legally be counted was. Still, the elections were in many cases as thin as the skin of an apple.
The system is not perfect, that’s been the one point of agreement on both sides of the political spectrum. But I think if people took the time to understand just how detailed and arduous this process is, they might get a better idea of why things are done the way they are. When you understand how the process works, that is when you can start working to make changes within it.
We were not guaranteed a country free from fraudulent behavior, free from narcissism, free from power gouging. We were, however, promised a country where the citizens have the right to arm themselves with facts, to contact their elected officials, to hold them accountable, and to stand up when the system isn’t working for all people. When things go wrong, the answer isn’t to sit on our couch and complain to our Facebook friends. Our job as citizens is to complain to our friends on Facebook after educating ourselves with real facts (that seems redundant, but sadly it is necessary to be specific about which facts we use), while calling our elected officials on the phone and making sure they hear our opinion, talking to our friends and engaging our families in these important dialogues, marching when necessary, and refusing to be used as a tool in a political game of chess.
Our government is of the people, by the people, for the people, and it only functions if the people hold ourselves responsible for holding our elected officials accountable. Representative democracy may be a source of infuriation when it comes to trying to make changes, but it is the best kind of government tried so far, so we better make use of it. As mentor of mine Nadia Hussain once said, “I don’t have time to wait for a revolution.”
Joanna Woodson is a senior studying social work at WCU. She believes in the power of the people, as well as the inherent dignity of all people. Joanna hopes one day to use her social work degree along side a law degree to help in the pursuit of justice. She became an Andrew Goodman Foundation fellow in January 2016. Check out her blog posts at the AGF website.