Registering to vote has never been easier, and has never been more important. This year's election will prove crucial to people living with HIV and their supporters. On the national level, your vote will decide not only who will be the next president and who will represent you in Congress and the US Senate, but also who will sit on the Supreme Court, who will determine HIV/AIDS funding levels and who will be appointed to head the various administrative offices that set the policies we all live under day in and day out. Locally, your vote will determine who will be elected to the state legislature, and in turn, who will be making decisions regarding issues such as funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), support for the proposed HIV Medicaid Waiver, and how the state's confidentiality laws will be strengthened and implemented.
If you are not currently registered to vote, you must do so prior to October 10 in order to be eligible to vote in the November election. Whereas registering once meant going down in person to your local library or voter registration office, today registering is as easy as making a phone call or surfing the net.
If you have access to the internet you may register directly online. Most states now allow you to do this. These sites contain not only voter registration forms, but forms for applying as an absentee voter. If you will be out of town on November 7 (election day), or if your health prevents you from going to your polling location on Election Day, you may request an absentee ballot. Requests for an absentee ballot may be made as early as 180 days prior to the election, but must be submitted to your county voter registration office far enough in advance so that a ballot may be sent to you. I would recommend that you submit your request at least two weeks before the election. Ballots must be returned prior to November 7 to be counted. Each state's website also hosts a wide variety of materials that will help you become a more educated voter. On the Georgia web site, for instance, there is a complete listing of all individuals seeking office in Georgia, as well as contact information for their campaigns.
Finally, don't forget to re-register if you've moved since the last election. Many people are unknowingly dropped from voter registration rolls because they've moved. You will need to complete a new voter registration form before October 10 to be registered in your new location. If you are not able to do this, then you may vote at your previous location, either in person or by requesting an absentee ballot.
No Excuse for Not Voting
Each year, many people fail to register or fail to vote for a variety of reasons. With so much riding on this election, here are some facts to counteract the most common excuses for not registering or not voting. "I don't want to be called for jury duty." The most classic excuse for not registering, and the biggest myth surrounding voter registration. While it's true that voter registration listings are used to summon people for jury duty, they are not the only lists used to select potential jurors. Most locations also use other lists such as driver's licenses to create their lists. When was the last time someone said that they didn't want to drive because it might lead to jury duty?
"Convicted felons can't vote." While this excuse does not apply to most people, for some it does. It is true that you cannot vote if you are currently serving a sentence for commission of a felony, but if you have completed your sentence, you are eligible to vote, but you must register. If you have specific questions about your eligibility, please contact the Secretary of State's office or your local county registrar.
"My vote doesn't matter." With voter participation at an all time low (less than 50% of eligible voters participated in the last presidential election), your vote carries even more weight. Only a few percentage points decide many elections, which often translates into a few hundred votes in any given precinct.
"I don't like my choices, and I hate voting for the 'lesser of two evils.'" It may be true that the individuals running for office may not reflect your views on all issues, or even on most issues that are important to you. However, one of the people running will become elected, and one person is always closer to your views than another. Furthermore, it's important to remember that the impact of who's in office goes well beyond the person holding any given seat. Elected officials hold great power over determining who is appointed to various boards and commissions, who holds seats on the US Supreme Court, and how non-legislative policy will be created and implemented. As is often the case, even the most lackluster politician can prove to be a strong ally or foe when it comes to making decisions that do impact your life.
"I don't have enough information on who's running to make an informed decision." AIDS Survival Project does not endorse candidates, so you'll have to do some work to fight this excuse. In next month's column, I'll list some of the resources that are available to help you become an educated and informed voter.
Register to vote in your state or download an absentee ballot :