Column: With your rights on the line, make a plan to vote in the midterms

Whether your city hall resembles an office park or a hulking Brutalist masterpiece, it’s a standing symbol of the political power that rests in local government. Ahead of election season in November, states will determine the future of abortion access, rights for LGBTQ+ people and the educational material that stocks library shelves in schools in the absence of federal policy. From legislators and school boards to judges and commissioners, you might not recognize your hometown – or the people that govern it – following a decisive election when you next return. If you want to determine the future of your community, it’s time to make a plan to vote.

Whether student loan forgiveness, Title IX policies or the “Hillternships” we aspire to secure, the federal government affects our lives as college students and temporary D.C. residents each and every day. But cross the Potomac, take a train out of Union Station or catch a flight from Reagan National Airport, and you’ll find state laws that are downright strange – and in some cases, deadly serious.

After the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, new or preexisting laws in Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and at least nine other states have banned or severely restricted abortion access. Bans on abortion in Tennessee, Texas and Idaho took effect just last week. The impact has been immediate – in the month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, 43 clinics across 11 states stopped providing abortions. It’s also been horrific – in July, the story of a pregnant 10-year-old girl who had to travel from Ohio, which banned abortions after six weeks, to Indiana to obtain medical care sparked national outrage. And there are countless people whose states are now forcing them to carry nonviable pregnancies to term or wait until they are in dire medical need before doctors can intervene.

Many of these same states, dominated by Republican-led legislatures and governors, have also passed laws restricting transgender students’ ability to play school sports, receive transition-related medical care or use their pronouns or name in class. And bans on teaching “critical race theory” – code for anything less than a rose-tinted version of American history – have turned library shelves and lesson plans into political minefields as teachers and librarians struggle to keep up with regulations that are just as draconian as they are vague.

These attacks on our rights don’t stop there – voting itself is on the ballot. Right-wing pundits and politicians have latched onto former President Donald Trump’s election denialism to make it harder to vote. In Georgia, a new voting law has reduced the number of drop box locations where voters, especially people of color and Democrats, could previously cast their ballots.

I understand if you’ve already decided not to vote this year. Perhaps you’re hesitant to endorse a political system that is far from perfect, to put it mildly. And to some, it can seem like casting a single vote every few years will hardly make a difference – but it does. Kansas voters came out to defeat an anti-abortion measure in August, avoiding a potential total ban on abortion in the state.

It feels like we’ve heard that “this is the most important election of our lifetime” for the past six years, but the stakes really are that high. Voters in California and Vermont have the opportunity to enshrine reproductive freedom as part of their state constitutions in November, while voters in Montana and Kentucky can send a message to their elected officials – and the country – by rejecting measures to enforce fetal personhood and impede reproductive healthcare at the polls.

So how do you actually cast your ballot for the remaining five state primaries during the next two months and the general election in November? These general descriptions vary from state to state, but you’ll first want to make sure you’re registered to vote and double-check your registration if you’re already registered. From there, find your sample ballot to know what you’ll be voting for and make a plan to get to the polls. If you’d rather vote in person and live close to GW, you may be able to vote early on the weekend or a day when you don’t have classes – Virginia allows in-person absentee voting 45 days before election day.

But election day Nov. 8 isn’t a University holiday, and if you live outside the Northeast Corridor, it’s not exactly feasible to leave D.C., vote and come back in a single day. That’s where mail-in voting comes in. You may have to request a mail-in ballot several days in advance of the actual election before receiving it, or the state where you’re registered to vote may supply one to you automatically. When you do receive your ballot, simply fill it out and send it back along with any documentation, like a copy of your ID that your state may require. And make sure to send it early enough that it’s received on election day or, depending on your state’s rules, up to a week after.

It’s true that political engagement doesn’t stop and start with voting, but some of your most fundamental rights – your bodily autonomy, personhood and even the right to vote itself – are in the hands of your state government. Whether they defend these rights or increasingly assault them, the legislators that create your state’s laws and the agencies and authorities responsible for enforcing them are decided at the ballot box. So make a plan to vote, and use your voice in the streets – and at the polls – this year.

Ethan Benn, a junior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor

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