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For some Latinas trying to vote, persistence is key

Two Hispanic women in New York had trouble trying to vote and almost gave up, but with the help of Electionland, they managed to cast their ballots.
8 Nov 2016 – 08:24 PM EST
A polling place in the Bronx, New York. Crédito: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Heredia showed up to vote for the first time, only to learn she wasn't on the rolls. After waiting for an hour and a half, the 27-year-old Dominican-American student, who lives in the Bronx, New York, wasn't able to vote.

"They told me I wasn't on the list," said Heredia, who went to PS 163 in the Bronx to vote and had multiple discussions with poll workers. "They didn't even try to solve the problem. They just said my name wasn't there. They sent me from person to person but they didn't help me."

Heredia decided to leave after the confusion. But then she heard on Univision about Electionland's Whatsapp help line and sent a message to report the incident. Journalist Claudia Báez, who's working for Electionland, asked Heredia if she'd asked for a provisional ballot. The poll workers never gave her that option.

With that information, Heredia went back to the polling place and told the poll workers that they had to let her vote by provisional ballot. Someone then offered to help her and miraculously found her name on the rolls.

"Within two minutes they found my name," she said. "I wasn't thinking about going back, but it's close to my house so I went by again."

John Powers, associate counsel in the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said it happens "too frequently" that voters give up when poll workers turn them away. Poll workers don't always understand the many rules involved in the voting process.

"Most people are going to assume they're talking to an expert," he said. "The most effective voter is an informed voter."

Journalist Laura Martínez, also in New York, had a similar problem during her first time voting. Apparently, a typing error left her off the rolls, but with the assistance of Electionland via Whatsapp, she managed to vote through a sworn statement. This vote technically has the same weight as a normal vote, but it must be validated and counted at the end of Election Day.

"I wanted to cry, because I understood that if the presidential race isn't very close (which is very probable in my state), my vote might not be counted," Martínez wrote in a column for Univision. "But there was nothing else to do."

It's not just the act of voting that can take a lot of work. Heredia had trouble registering, and ended up registering three times just to be sure -- even before her voting odyssey.

"This is an example that persistence pays off," said Powers.

"What bothers me is that the polling place was practically empty," Heredia said. "But they never told me about the provisional ballot ... And this is a vote that really matters."

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