My Dad: The Non-Voter

Today’s the day, folks – National Voter Registration Day!

During every election season you hear the same catchphrases about voting, “Every vote counts; Exercise your rights!” The sad truth during this current presidential election is that many of these rights are at stake – voter ID laws and greater restrictions on voting are threatening the very essence of democracy. However, all of these things didn’t bother my dad. My dad is one of the millions of non-voters in the U.S. He never had an interest in voting or felt any need to become more engaged with civil society. This is why I am so amazed and delighted that he decided to register for the first time a few days ago.

Like many APIAs, my dad is an immigrant who arrived to this country to start a career and a family. He and my mom worked hard, became citizens and raised my sisters and me in suburban Indianapolis. Having a disability and being Asian American really made me stick out in Indiana during my childhood. As I grew up and became more politicized, I would talk to my parents about things that mattered to me – issues such as disability rights, health care, and education. My mom went back to school as an adult and eventually got a Masters degree in social work. Mom started voting in her 40s and has been doing so ever since. Voting by mail is an option that mom and I use – it’s so convenient (no long lines!). You can take your time to deliberate before voting and read the ballot carefully, a plus for people who speak English as a second language.

Despite watching our whole family vote, dad was still uninterested. He has his opinions on the issues, but felt it was futile to vote. He would say the following about politicians and politics:

“Republicans and Democrats are both corrupt; they’re all the same.”
“How will my vote count if my district is already overwhelmingly for one party?”
“Eh, those politicians, they only care about power and money.”
“I don’t want to vote because I don’t want to be up for jury duty!”

These sentiments are held by a lot of Americans who feel apathetic about the way government and most institutions work. Some of you might have a parent or grandparent who thinks like my dad. The whole “what’s the point” attitude is something we can change.

This past year, I was impacted by changes in my state’s Medicaid program. People with disabilities are facing drastic cuts on all fronts, disenfranchising them even further. Connecting my personal experience with policies and programs that affect me (and by extension, our family) helped convince my dad that voting does matter, no matter how small our voices might sound amid the election-season din.

Like voting by mail, registering online made the process easy for a first-time voter like my dad. I would encourage everyone to spread the word about how convenient it is and that there’s still time to register. As a family, through our discussions and debates, we encouraged dad to register. He’s actually excited about voting for the first time – and as his daughter, I couldn’t be prouder.

Alice Wong is a disabled/Asian American/news junkie/night owl/advocate/researcher. You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf

Does Alice’s story remind you of anyone? Tell us what’s worked to get your family and friends engaged. And in the spirit of National Voter Registration Day, please share this article with your circle…especially that one uncle still trying to avoid jury duty. 😉

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