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How You Can Make Sure Your Vote Counts

Knowledge is power.

Politics

We have a leader who turns a blind eye to racial injustice, face masks and coronavirus testing and thinks it's OK to blind the eyes of peaceful protesters so he can snag a photo op.

I'll walk barefoot across shards of glass and still stand in a line all night to vote him out of office.

Although standing in line all night is a bit of a stretch, more than a few hours has been the norm for 2020 voting so far. In Kentucky's primaries, there were only 200 polling places statewide, down from 3,700 in the 2018 election. But only one polling place was in Jefferson County this past week, where 600,000 of the registered voters live. Half of Black Kentuckians live there, too.

This is classic voter suppression.

Mary Long / Shutterstock

Georgians faced longer lines than usual earlier this month, also. Furthermore, they encountered ballot shortages, which was a whole other issue across many states. Tens of thousands of voters didn't receive the absentee ballots that they requested. And in Maryland, where all registered voters were supposed to have automatically received ballots in the mail, about 160,000 ballots (or roughly 5% of those actually sent out) weren't even delivered, according to CNN.

And Georgia's new voting machine glitches? Those technical issues probably could've been resolved ahead of time through machine testing and volunteer training had 'Rona not forced stay-at-home orders. Experts say these problems only occurred in our predominantly Black communities so that possibly sounds like another case of voter suppression.

Voting rights groups call the most recent primaries a disaster and a sneak-peek into what'll happen in November, particularly in counties where the majority of residents are not white, if these machine glitches and ballot shortage issues aren't fixed. Add to all of that the health officials' predictions of a vicious resurgence of the 'Rona. This pandemic is turning 2020 into pandemonium!

So, how should we prepare? What do we need to do to minimize wait times in line, protect our health and evict the tenant from the DC mansion that sits along Black Lives Matter Plaza? Here's where to start:

Make sure you and your eligible loved ones register to vote online.

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It's a fact that everyone who can vote isn't already registered. New voter registration has declined during the quarantine period. States like Virginia saw 73% fewer registrations in April than it did during the same time in 2016, possibly due to the shutdown of the Department of Motor Vehicles where most residents register to vote. And despite being able to register online, Kentuckian registrations also flatlined in April because door-to-door canvassing and in-person registration booths are much more successful. However, online registration is our best option right now.

If you're a regular of Club Quarantine, then you probably attended #CouchParty 2.0 with When We All Vote, co-chaired by our forever FLOTUS Michelle Obama. The organization reached over 100,000 eligible voters during the virtual registration drive in April. Another resourceful site is Vote.org. Both websites keep the registration process simple. Vote.org says it takes less than two minutes.

It's also best to go ahead and register now even though the deadline for the general election is in October. In case you're a procrastinator, you can get the exact date for your state here. But I repeat: Do it today!

Check your voter registration status. 

Nowadays, anything can happen. We might somehow get purged from the voter roll. Or we may arrive at the polling station only for the volunteer to tell us they can't find our name. The devil is a liar, as my cousin often says. There's a link on the When We All Vote homepage that you can click to be sure you're still set to vote before you get to the polls.

Request a general (presidential) absentee ballot.

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Most states offer this option. Again, some states may even automatically send a general absentee ballot to every registered voter like they did for this year's primaries. (If you live in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii, then this doesn't apply to you because your states hold all of their elections entirely by mail anyway.)

Currently 28 states and the District of Columbia offer "no-excuse" voting by mail, which means any voter can get an absentee ballot if they ask for one. States with stricter laws, like my home state of Virginia, require voters to provide a valid reason on their application explaining why they can't appear at the polls. You have to choose one from the list and provide proof but don't fret: COVID-19 is still in these streets and counts as a legitimate excuse.

Be mindful of the tight deadlines because you want your vote to count! Some states need to receive the ballots back on Election Day while others accept a postmark. States like Virginia will send ballots out 45 days before the election so try to get it as soon as possible. Check your state's absentee ballot deadlines and requirements here.

Also be mindful of your signature. Now is not the time to get fancy with our swoops, slashes and squiggles if that's not how we signed our driver's license. The last thing we want is for our vote to become a provisional ballot and not be counted because the person who compared the signatures thinks ours is inconsistent.

If you don't receive your absentee ballot in a timely manner, please contact your county registrar or Department of Elections. Don't sit at home and wait like this one couple did during the DC primary and ended up not voting at all. If your ballot still doesn't come in the mail, you'll definitely need to vote in-person.

Consider early voting.

I get it. In-person voting is what we're trying to avoid because how can you realistically stand six feet apart on Election Day? Somebody is going to be breathing on the back of your neck and then asking if you mind that they stand that close to you. Early voting is usually available. With early voting, we have a window of time to choose our candidate before November 3. Check early voting dates for your state here.

Know your voting rights before you go!

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Did you know that there is an "inactive" list of voters? If your name isn't on the regular voter roll and you haven't recently voted, your name could be on the other list. If this is the case, you can still cast a regular ballot in the current election. You can also call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-687-8683.

And did you know that if you're already in line when polls close, then you can still vote? Thankfully, voters at the lone polling place in Jefferson County, KY, knew that when some smart official decided to lock the doors promptly at 6pm. They banged on the windows but apparently candidate Charles Booker had to file an injunction with a judge to reopen the doors until 6:30 pm. I'm telling y'all: Voter suppression is real!

But even if you have to vote on actual Election Day after all, do not get discouraged. Awaken bright and early on November 3 and protect yourself: mask, disposable gloves, a little sanitizer, ID and a basic knowledge of your voting rights. And the minute your thoughts shift to "I can't deal with the corona and crowds today!", picture the current tenant in the DC mansion hunkered down in his bunker issuing tear gas orders for another four years all because we're demanding our right to live. Equally.

We can't deal with that, either, sis.

Check your voter registration status or register to vote today at Vote.org.

Featured image by Shutterstock

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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