Election day road trip to Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of Jack Purdy, Student Publications

I spent all of Election Day 2020 driving. Like, the whole entire 24 hour meaning of a day. My housemate, Hannah, needed to complete an absentee ballot for the state of Pennsylvania.

Except, long story short, the secrecy envelope her ballot goes inside was physically compromised, and we weren’t sure her ballot would be counted if we mailed it back to Montgomery County in that condition.

On the night of Monday, November 2nd, we did as much research as we could to try and figure out if her ballot was acceptable to send or not. Pennsylvania law required an absentee ballot be postmarked by Election Day, and received by 7 p.m. that Friday.

I called the Vote Save America hotline and spent half an hour talking with a sweet guy who, bless his heart, had to check with multiple more experienced people than him to try and discern the kind of situation we were in and what our options were. We called the Montgomery County elections office multiple times, but they were closed that evening (a questionable decision at best). We sent them an email with a picture of what the envelope looked like, in the hopes they would respond to us soon enough to avoid having to drive to Pennsylvania.

As the headline may have hinted at, we realized our safest and likely best option was to get in the car right then at 10:30pm and drive overnight to Montgomery County. I drove the first shift for the first three hours before my roommate Gavin took over until we stopped for breakfast.

I wrote a quick Facebook post in part to have something for my parents to see that morning what our update was, but also for people to see just what it was taking for a college student to vote from four states away. When I woke up around 7 a.m., I had received a text from a friend who works at HLN who wanted to get Hannah live on the air before she went to vote. We set up a time when she would be on air and set up her phone with a specific app she needed to connect to the studio. By the time we rolled into a Chick-Fil-A to get breakfast, friends had sent us enough money on their own volition so that the costs of the entire trip would be covered.

Hannah’s interview started great. A few minutes in, the signal cut out right as we got into the middle of Amish country, not far from Montgomery County.

I took a call not long after from Rick Clark, Tech’s Undergraduate Admissions Director, who got me in touch with Tech’s Institute Communications (they are the ones that control the Institute’s social media feed).

The picture we took at the polling place is what would be used by multiple media outlets and Tech themselves once coverage of our trip started to spread. Hannah got to vote with her family while the rest of us frolicked at a nearby park.

We went to Hannah’s parents house nearby for a very quick lunch after. At that point in my head, I knew that while the mission was complete, delaying our return trip home would wreak havoc on the mental toll of the rest of the week, so getting back with urgency was of utmost importance. After a quick side quest to drop a letter off at a friends house in DC, it was a straight shot home for us, finishing the 26.5 hour adventure. Hannah and I had phone interviews with the AJC and CNN in the mid-afternoon.

In hindsight it would have been so much easier to say, “it’s just one vote, what does it matter?”

Thankfully, we never took that question into consideration. What hits hard most about that day isn’t the amount of money so many gracious friends gave us, not that it is an epic story we will have forever, it is the fact it took such an immense effort to make one singular vote count.

It gave me a new perspective as to how fundamentally flawed the access to voting is in the United States. The night before Election Day, we couldn’t get answers about a problem we had from someone official.

Even a basic email we sent wasn’t responded to, which would’ve saved us possibly 15 hours of driving if we received an answer. Our best option was someone I wasn’t legally allowed to send a picture to when that would’ve saved 25 minutes of phone time.

The fact we had the resources and enormous external support to make the trip happen absolutely was in part due to white privilege.

We left not anticipating getting help, but I knew before we left that once word got out of what we were doing in a swing state, people were going to latch onto this story and we would have more money than we needed. I didn’t ask to be in that position, but I was and it’s a huge factor as to why I’m even writing this story.

Did we make this vote happen because we thought there was a world Pennsylvania would come down to one vote? In all honesty, it crossed our minds.

I speak for everyone on the trip that we were committed to getting Biden as many votes as possible. We also were convinced that no vote was worth being forgotten about that we had the ability to make happen. We still are.

The drive was absolutely exhausting. It took 26.5 hours to complete. My head was in so much pain that by the end I thought I may have contracted COVID-19.

But, that mild inconvenience would be insulting to those who fought and died to make sure everyone had a fair chance to vote. Living in John Lewis’ district for the first time during a Presidential election, not doing everything I could within my immediate power to get a vote counted would’ve been sacrilege and un-American. Many Republican controlled states have introduced legislation to indeed make life harder for anyone who wants to vote absentee. Hopefully this story shows that can’t happen.