In-person voter registration ends October 9, followed by an extra week for those qualified to register online. Credit: Lynda Woolard

The 2018 Mid-Term Election is being touted as the most consequential of our lifetime. In-person registration ends tomorrow—Tuesday, October 9; those qualified to register online have a week’s grace. But if you aren’t registered, you can’t vote.

Every single inflection point in recent memory has been hugely impacted by our elected officials, from the 2014 events that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the  swearing in just the other day of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Local elections are as significant in our day-to-day lives as presidential elections. The sheriffs, school board members, and judges we put in office have far more immediate and lasting influence on our communities.

As I registered voters recently, a young man told me he wouldn’t be voting. Why? “Don’t you know the election was rigged by Russia?” He smugly walked away, but I yelled after him anyway, probably in vain: “But there’s a constitutional amendment on Louisiana’s ballot that would require a unanimous jury to convict someone of a felony!”

While my response doesn’t exactly fit on a bumper sticker, these local elections will impact hundreds of thousands of our neighbors’ lives.

To register in person you need to go to your local Registrar of Voters office not later than Tuesday, October 9. But if you have a Louisiana driver’s license, or state-issued ID, you can register online at until Tuesday, October 16.

Because so many voters have been purged from the rolls this year, you need to check your registration while there is still time to re-register—i.e. right now!—to see if there are any issues with your status. The lagniappe that comes with using the Secretary of State’s free app is that you can also find other useful information, like what’s on your ballot this year, where to vote, and who your current elected officials are.

Nonprofits and advocacy groups have mounted a robust effort this year to register more voters, and I strongly support that goal. Of course, each year, a new cohort turns 18, and we need to get them in the system. That said, Louisiana has done a reasonable job of registering voters overall. Of eligible voters, approximately 87 percent are registered.

Where we struggle is in getting people to the polls. Statistics show that informing voters an election will generate low turnout is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It actually depresses the vote. As counterproductive as this information may be, predictions this year are for a turnout of 30 percent or less. If you’re reading this, I strongly urge you to defy the odds and vote.

And here are some tips to ensure that you follow through on that good intention:

(1) Make a plan. Figure out what your day will look like on November 6, a Tuesday, and schedule your trip to a polling place in and around other obligations like school and work and social events.

(2) If possible, vote early. That happens at the registrar’s office, not at the polling places used on November 6. Early voting runs from Tuesday, October 23, to Tuesday, October 30, except for Sunday, October 28. There are four places where you can vote early:

City Hall
1300 Perdido Street, Room 1W24
New Orleans, LA 70112

Algiers Courthouse
225 Morgan Street, Room 105
New Orleans, LA 70114

Chef Menteur Voting Machine Warehouse Site
8870 Chef Menteur Highway
New Orleans, LA 70126

Lake Vista Community Center 
6500 Spanish Fort Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70124

That gives you a whole week to vote in person, if going on Tuesday, November 6, will be a hardship. If you need to vote on a Saturday, take note that there is only one Saturday of voting available this year, October 27.

(3) Another thing that makes registered voters more likely to vote is knowing their neighbors and peers are doing it. So make sure you are vocal about exercising your civic duty. Post about it online. Wear your “I Voted” sticker. Tell everybody.

(4) In addition, offer to take a first-time voter to the polls, and then make sure you follow up with them for the next two elections. People who vote in three successive elections are more likely to become chronic voters. Peer pressure and repetition work!

(5) Louisianans are not required to have a photo ID to vote, but I always take my Louisiana driver’s license, because it makes the process go so smoothly. You can use a driver’s license from any state, or any generally recognized photo ID with your name and signature on it. If you don’t have anything with a picture on it, bring a utility bill, a payroll check or a government document that includes your name and address. If you don’t have a photo ID, you must sign an affidavit stating you are who you say you are.

The ray of hope is that voters seem energized in 2018. I pray that’s true! People have been in the streets raising their voices, donating to candidates, sharing opinions online, and making calls to elected officials. This is how democracy works.

Registering to vote matters, because voting matters. We are living through a time of citizen protests and deep political division. It’s easy to get cynical and decide that democracy is a lost cause or that the Russians have won. Don’t be so quick to give up.

People have died in the struggle to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Don’t let them down! Women went to jail and were force fed like foie gras geese when they went on hunger strikes for their right to vote. Freedom riders were murdered for trying to protect the right of African Americans to register and vote in the South. Today, voting rights are being slowly chiseled away, and if we don’t take advantage of the power of the ballot now, more of us may lose our voices.

In upcoming voting cycles, among other urgent issues, we will have the opportunity to shape the judiciary for years to come. There is still progress to be made on restoring the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. Redistricting of Congressional and state legislative seats will hang in the balance following the 2020 census. Because elections impact all these issues, there is never one we can afford to sit out.

Remember those tiny elections with only a renewed tax on them or something seemingly minor that you shrugged off? Don’t be a sucker. You can be sure a team of strategists somewhere has carefully calculated when to introduce a pet proposition—knowing that many of us won’t bother to vote in an off-year election. All they have to do is turn out their own people.

I understand that not knowing the candidates or the issues can make voting complicated. Why vote if you’re just guessing? That’s a valid point. I always recommend checking out your ballot first on the Geaux Vote app, scanning local publications, and monitoring the recommendations of political groups active in our city.

There are both partisan and non-partisan groups to choose from. There are candidate forums happening now. There are op-eds being written now. People shy away from discussing politics, but how else are you going to have an informed electorate? It’s been said that if we do not educate ourselves, and do not vote in every election, we get the government we deserve.

The ray of hope is that voters seem energized in 2018. I pray that’s true! People have been in the streets raising their voices, donating to candidates, sharing opinions online, and making calls to elected officials. This is how democracy works.

At the end of the day, we must all vote in order to protect that democracy, not just for ourselves, but for all the members of our communities. Those who cannot vote are also counting on you to show up on Election Day. Your vote is your voice, but you also have the power to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

November 6 is coming. Make your plan today on how you will get to the polls to cast your vote.

Lynda Woolard is a political organizer and community activist. She registers voters through C’est La Vote.

The opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.