#WSDQ Episode 2: Registering to vote in Arizona
Weird Shit During Quarantine is me trying to document how weird everything feels during quarantine.
I arrived in Tucson on Memorial Day weekend, and voting in the August primary wasn’t top of mind. I’d just culled my belongings, shoved everything into a UHAUL van, and driven 13 hours, leaving my friends, baby sister, and a city I loved behind. I felt grief, and I was focused on that.
By mid-June, I got my shit together and hopped on the internet expecting to knock out voter registration in a few clicks. In California, registering had been so simple that I didn’t even remember doing it, so I thought it would be similar in Arizona.
It started out fine. I checked the boxes confirming I was a US citizen, at least 18 years old, and a resident. Next.
“Enter your state ID number,” I read. I didn’t have one yet. I clicked Continue. “STATE ID NUMBER.” I clicked Next. “STATE !!! ID !!! NUMBER !!!” I clicked Quit and got a snack.
I gave up hoping the problem would solve itself. Like, maybe if I do nothing … Arizona will … change its laws? :) It didn’t. So then it was like, I need to get a driver’s license … extremely quickly … during a pandemic. :( I ate another snack and dove back in.
“Out-of-state applicants must go to a department of transportation office in-person,” I read. “No walk-ins accepted due to COVID-19.” Fair. “Click here to schedule an appointment.” Easy. “Online appointment scheduling is closed due to COVID-19.” WUT. “Call us to schedule an appointment.” Fine. “Wait times will exceed 2 hours.”
After a 90 minute hold, I told the operator that I needed to make an appointment for a driver’s license.
“What office?” he asked.
“Ummm,” I said, stalling for time and worried he would hang up. “Sorry, I just moved here.” I used my left hand to search “DMV” in Google Maps, forgetting that it’s “DOT” in Arizona, and nothing came up. “Can you tell me which office is closest to downtown?”
“No,” he said. “I have no idea.”
I told him I’d take whichever office had the earliest appointment available, and we confirmed July 2, which was three weeks away and only four days before the voter registration deadline.
On July 1, I realized that I’d never received a confirmation, so I sat through another hold and was connected to a different operator.
“I have an appointment tomorrow, and I haven’t received any confirmation,” I told her. “So I wanted to check that I’m on the schedule.”
“Sure,” she said. “What’s your state ID number?”
My vision swam. “I don’t have one,” I said.
“Let me check with my supervisor,” she replied. She was gone for ten minutes.
“We only have confirmation information for people who have a state ID number,” she told me. “But my supervisor said it’ll probably be okay if you just show up.”
The next afternoon, I woke my boyfriend up—he was working nights—and told him it was time to go to the DOT. He asked for the address.
“Uh, babe,” he said. “I think it’s closed.”
“Did it burn down or something?” I asked. There was a fire in the foothills, and some homes and businesses had been evacuated.
“No,” he said. “I think it’s because of covid.” It was also peak pandemic in Arizona.
“EVERYONE DIED?” I asked. “Like, every single person who works there?”
“They’re all sick or something,” he said. “So they don’t have anyone left to work.”
We decided to drive over anyways, just in case. Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to an empty parking lot in front of a squat brick building. I got out of the car and walked to the door, where a large man was holding a clipboard.
“We’re closed because of the virus,” he told me. “Did you have an appointment?”
I told him my name and he looked it up.
“Yeah, you’re on here,” he said. “You can come in and reschedule your appointment.” He paused. “But try not to touch any surfaces.”
I went inside, rebooked my appointment via the one employee who was working, and received a printed confirmation—but the earliest appointment was more than a week away.
Opening the door of my boyfriend’s truck, I felt sick. “I’m not going to be able to vote in the primary,” I told him. As we drove to pick up a late lunch, I berated myself for not figuring this out while I was still living in San Francisco. Single-handedly packing my apartment, coordinating a move, and working full time was no excuse. Who the fuck doesn’t register to vote? I was such a lazy idiot.
The actual appointment that followed was fine. We were in and out quickly and received our voter registration confirmation a few weeks later—they actually send you a plastic card that says, “YOU’RE REGISTERED: BRING THIS SO NOBODY SUPPRESSES YOU ON ELECTION DAY”; it’s wild. But overall, I’d make the conservative estimate that I spent 5.5 hours registering to vote, which included:
- 1 hour doing research and printing/gathering documents for the travel ID
- 2.5 hours on hold to schedule and confirm an appointment
- 1 hour driving to and from the first failed appointment
- 30 minutes driving to and from the second successful appointment
- 30 minutes at the DOT
Another part of this story is that if people don't register to vote, it's because they didn't know about a deadline or they forgot or they're just lazy. “It's so easy!” we tell people over and over again. “Just click here!”
I bought into these stories and felt smug about what a competent little voter I was—truly a beacon of democratic participation! Why couldn't everyone be like me?
So when I wasn’t able to register, I blamed myself.
But like … should it take almost six hours to register to vote in a state that took five seconds to start taxing my income—no state ID number required??!?
Fuck that. When the government decides to make voter registration as difficult as possible, no amount of reminders is going to solve the problem—they just reinforce the idea that people are to blame for low participation. And can you really blame someone who isn't willing or able to miss more than half a workday to figure it out?
In the end, I was able to register to vote in November, but it’s not because someone’s Instagram Story reminded me to. It’s because I have a job that doesn’t punish me for being gone in the middle of the day.
Would I recommend registering to vote in Arizona as a quarantine activity? Fuck no. It was stressful and boring. Avoid if you can, but endure if you must.