‘I Voted Early’: Why I Did The Most Important Thing As An American

“I was out of the polling booth in about 15 mins & took a mandatory selfie,” writes Brooklyn-based Aseem Chhabra.

5 min read
Photo of the White House and the author of the piece, Aseem Chhabra, used for representational purposes.

Two weekends ago it was cold in New York City and the lines to vote early in the US presidential election were long. It was in the news and all over the social media. I decided not to vote that weekend.

But I had two more days left before I flew back to India and it was important for me to vote. The American democracy is at stake, and I had to express my voice.

So, on Monday, 26 October, I took an Uber to the Crown Heights neighbourhood of Brooklyn (home to a large population of Orthodox Hasidic Jews who refuse to wear masks since it is against their religion) to cast my vote at the Taylor Wythe Community Center. The centre is located on the ground floor of a subsidised low-income housing building, also referred to as projects.

A selfie of the author, Aseem Chhabra, after he voted.
A selfie of the author, Aseem Chhabra, after he voted.
(Photo: Aseem Chhabra)

Does My Vote Really Matter?

On 3 November, Americans will cast their votes to decide whether President Donald Trump gets a second term, or his Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden will win the election. But as of Sunday, a staggering 92 million voters – nearly two-thirds of turnout in the 2016 elections had already cast their votes. I am one of the 90 million.

There’s a statement often repeated – ‘every vote counts.’ It is mostly true, expect that the American presidential elections are counted based on electoral college votes.

Otherwise Hillary Clinton would have been declared the president based on the fact that she secured nearly three million more popular votes than Trump.

I am a registered Democrat in Brooklyn, and New York is an overwhelmingly blue state. It is assumed that all of New York’s as well as California’s electoral college votes will go for Biden and Kamala Harris. That is why you do not see the candidates campaigning in those states or even running any advertisements in the media.

My one additional vote for the Democratic Party candidate will not make a difference in New York State. Biden will still win all the New York electoral college votes.

But I still felt the need to vote, especially since I was present in the US while the early voting period had begun.

‘I Voted In US Election After Receiving My Permanent OCI Card’

In 1991, ten years after I came to the US as a student, I made the decision to live in that country. And if my life was going to be in the US, I had to vote in local and national elections. And so, I became a US citizen, which meant I had to give up my Indian citizenship. But I never stopped being an Indian. Mera dil to phir bhi Hindustani tha. I just assumed a hyphenated identity and became an Indian American.

Early September I flew to the US in the middle of the pandemic to apply for the Overseas Citizen of India status or the OCI card, which gives me nearly all rights as an Indian citizen. But I cannot vote in Indian elections. Twenty-nine years after I became a US citizen, family reasons had made me realise that I needed to spend more time in India.

The irony is that I voted in the US election a week after I received my permanent OCI card.

‘Simple, No ID Needed’: My Experience At The Voting Booth

Last Monday, 26 October, I arrived at the voting booth around 11 AM. There was a cold drizzle. I was surprised there was no line outside on the sidewalk. There were hand sanitisers placed outside the polling space. Inside the community centre, the poll workers – all wearing masks – directed a handful of voters to a row of desks. I walked up to a lady who asked my first and last names. She searched in the system and found me. It was that simple.

No ID was required. I signed my name using a soft pencil on an iPad. Another poll worker handed me a long ballot paper inside a folder.

I was then directed to one of the private spots where I could stand and cast my vote without anyone looking over my shoulder. There were six columns on each side of the ballot – candidates for the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Green and Libertarian parties. The main contest is between the Democrats and Republicans, and their candidates are supported by the Working Families and Conservative parties respectively.

One side of the ballot listed names of judges contesting for local courts as well as candidates for New York State senate and assembly.

Also listed on the ballot was a popular member of the House of Representatives – Democrat Caroline Maloney, who is up for re-election. She has served as a member of the house since 1993. Earlier this summer she faced a strong challenge in the primary elections from an Indian American candidate Suraj Patel. But she managed to defeat Patel.

And of course, for the presidential election, Biden and Harris were listed under the Democratic Party column, while Trump’s and his Vice President Mike Pence’s names appeared as the Republican candidates.

‘I Was Out Of Polling Station In Less Than 15 Mins’

With the pencil I was given I filled out the circles right next to the names of the candidates I wanted to vote for. For the final step I was escorted to a set of scanning machines. Once the machine scanned the ballot, the vote was registered. The machine also ‘ate’ the ballot. The scanned ballot stayed inside the machine.

All the while the poll workers were polite, cheerful and thanking everyone for casting their votes. They answered questions, but also maintained safe distances from the voters. And I was given a sticker that read “I Voted Early”.

I was out of the polling station in less than 15 minutes. A mandatory selfie was taken with the sticker on my shirt.

There were last minutes details to sort out before I left for India, but I had finished the most important thing I could do as an American.

(Aseem Chhabra is an actor and producer, known for Sita Sings the Blues (2008), Iftar (2015) and Pulse: The Desi Beat (2007). He is also one of the organisers of NYIFF. He tweets @chhabs. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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