Who's Your Plus One At The Polls?

Closeup of Vote Pin
Closeup of Vote Pin

Are you a concerned US citizen, worried about the future of the country and the planet? Are you wishing there was something more you could do than just cast your own solitary ballot?

Good news - there is something more you can do! Find one other eligible voter who might not otherwise have had the motivation, mobility, or ability to vote, and bring them as your plus one to the polls.

As a country, we're not doing so great at democracy. That's not a statement about the candidates; I'm talking about voter turnout. In 2012, somewhere between 53% and 58% of the voting-age population cast ballots, putting us about on par with Poland and well behind our neighbors Canada and Mexico (and most other developed countries). These stats are one of the many reasons why the "voter fraud" lie is so preposterous: nearly half the country isn't even motivated enough to vote once, much less to figure out how to commit a federal crime by voting multiple times or under false identities.

But if each of us in the franchise-exercising half of the population tried to find and bring a plus one from the non-voting (almost) half, then we can close this turnout gap. We could even beat Belgium at democracy. Imagine beating Belgium!

If all eligible voters actually voted, then the right candidate would win. That's not a partisan statement. That's true by definition. That is the fundamental premise of democracy.

What kind of person makes a good plus one at the polls? Maybe your cynical friend who thinks that her vote doesn't count, and it doesn't matter anyway because the system is just rigged, man. Talk her out of that nonsense, and bring her with you to the voting spot. Maybe it's your 89-year-old grandmother who can't drive, doesn't walk so easily anymore, and is anxious about potentially having to stand in a long line. You can reassure her about the lines, give her a ride to the polls, offer a steadying hand, and hang on to her purse for her while she votes. Maybe it's your co-worker - bring him with you on your lunch break. Maybe it's your absent-minded friend who's gonna forget if you don't remind them. Maybe it's your sister, brother, or auntie who needs you to watch the kids long enough for them to get to the polls and pull the lever. It could be anyone, so ask around and talk up the election - make sure the people around you have a plan, like Joe Biden does.

Last month, Michelle Obama reminded us that all it took in 2008 was two votes in each precinct to swing North Carolina for her husband. Those two votes could be you and your friend.

I really felt what the First Lady was saying there in Charlotte, because in 2008 I spent the week before election day getting out the vote in in Durham, NC, knocking on doors all across town. That was a life-changing experience in more ways than one, and it left me with some memories that I'll never forget. The one that affected me most was an elderly African American man who had been a cab driver but was now disabled. The man's wife and kids had already voted, but the family didn't have a car and the man didn't have a way to get to the polling place. So I drove him there. On the way over, he talked about growing up in the segregated South, what it was like to drive a cab for 40 years, and all the different kinds of people he had met. He was chatty and cheerful. He cast his ballot, and I drove him back home. When we got there, his wife met us at the door, tears streaming down her face. She had been assuming that her husband wasn't going to have the chance to vote for what might be the first black president--something neither she nor he ever thought that they might live to see. They thanked me, said God bless me. I drove one block and parked the car on the side of the road and completely broke down. Even writing about it now is choking me up. That wasn't the only time I was moved to tears that week, but it was the most memorable.

And the President won North Carolina by 14,000-some votes. And that is what democracy looks like: neighbors helping neighbors.

So make it your mission to find at least one fellow citizen who might not have voted if it hadn't been for you. Check in with the campaign of your preferred candidate and see if they need help getting eligible voters to the polls.

And if you live in an early-voting state, don't wait - now's the time.

Plus one: Early voting with my 89-year-old grandmother in Bexar County, Texas, earlier this week.