When voting means going the extra 524 miles.
The second-to-last thing Jenna Snead wanted to do this week was spend a dozen hours roundtrip on a bus. But the absolute last thing was missing out on her chance to vote after a mix-up with her absentee ballot. So the 20-year-old college junior did what she had to do. She boarded the bus.
It felt like putting her money where her mouth was, she said. Literally.
A week ago Tuesday, Snead stood in front of her public speaking class at Schreiner University, in Kerville where she’s majoring in communications and compelled her classmates to vote. Yes, it was an assignment. But it also felt like more than a grade.
“I talked about the voter turnout for people my age, and how low it is,” Snead said a week later, as she stood outside her polling place near Meyerland ready to cast her ballot. “Especially in Texas. It’s like, 27.4 percent of people my age that actually go out and vote. And then they say, ‘My vote doesn’t matter.’ But it would if you actually go out and do it.”
That’s just the way she was raised. Every year on Election Day, her mother D’Ann Jante takes the day off work and makes voting into a celebration, capped off with a family breakfast out.
As a junior in college out of town, Snead was prepared to miss that family tradition this year. Until her absentee ballot failed to show up.
“I applied for it in early October, well before the deadline,” Snead said. “It just never arrived. We called the county clerk. I talked to my mailroom, and they were like, ‘Sorry kid.’”
Sorry kid didn’t cut it. Not for Snead, and not for her mother.
“If you would have told me a week ago that I’d spend $142 and have this poor child on a bus for 12 hours, I would have said you’re crazy,” Jante said. “But that’s what we’re doing.”
At first, the family held on hope that the absentee ballot would turn up, waiting just one more day at a time, a few times over. When it became obvious that Snead was going to miss out on her chance to vote, she called home to her mom and her stepfather.
When her parents first pitched the bus idea, Snead’s reaction was, “God, getting on a bus? Really?”
But then she thought about the stakes, and the stats she quoted in her presentation.
“This is one of the more major elections, and if it weren’t like a major election, I probably would not have gotten on a bus six hours to get home,” she said. “But it’s the midterms, and we’re deciding who is going to go and represent the entirety of Texas. So I figured it’s pretty important, and if we’re going to do this, everybody needs to actually go and do it. And I got on the bus and came home.”
It meant missing four classes on Tuesday, and a full day of work as an office assistant on Wednesday. But it also meant being a part of something bigger than her.
And Snead is certainly not the only one in Harris County going above and beyond this year to make sure her voice is heard.
The county sent out 119,472 absentee ballots this year. And by the day before Election Day, about 75 percent of them had been returned. But there are others missing.
“In the last couple elections, we’ve had an increase in the numbers trying to vote by mail,” said Hector De Leon, a spokesman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. “And when those numbers go up, the number of people that may not be receiving their ballots in a timely manner increases by a bit.”
That, he said, is largely due to the postal service. “It’s taking double the time,” De Leon said. “So from the standpoint of elections, we can do everything just right. But once we provide the ballots to the U.S. postal service, we can’t control the pace of delivery.”
It looked to Snead as though her ballot got lost in the mail. And the same thing happened to other college kids, too.
“Before my son Jack went back to school this August, we printed out the form to request his absentee. We even printed more so his friends could take them and fill them out,” said Dorothy Puch Lillig, who lives in Bellaire.
Jack mailed it in immediately. But his absentee never showed up in Illinois, where he’s a sophomore at the University of Illinois. Like Snead, he called the county. So did his mom.
They spent hours tied up with various officials before they were able to find a generous employee who offered to get a new absentee ballot out in a rush, if Dorothy could dispatch FedEx to the office.
Three hours on the phone, and $36.70 in expedited postage later, Jack’s ballot made it to its destination a day ahead of the deadline.
What really concerned her is that when she posted her frustration on Facebook, she received comments from friends letting her know she and Jack weren’t the only ones in this position.
“We have means, so I said OK, I don’t mind paying for that,” Dorothy said. “But how does someone who doesn’t have that? I got the cheapest prices I could find, but if I had to send it overnight, that would be $100.”
Not everyone can do that, she said.
For Snead, the extra effort she was forced to put in made voting that much sweeter.
“I think if people my age are going to complain about their voices not being heard, then clearly they aren’t doing what they need to do to make them heard,” she said. “And the only way I was going to be heard was if I sat 12 hours on a bus to have that happen.”