I Voted!

I voted early this morning.

I was so excited and enthusiastic.  I literally squealed when I saw my name and signature in the electoral register.  I had had nightmares about my name not being in there because I became a citizen and registered so recently and was all prepared for requesting a provisional ballot.  Turns out the admin for voting runs more smoothly than most American bureaucracies I have had to deal with.

Five years of living in a country while not enfranchised to vote has been stressful.  I am raising my kids here and I pay taxes here and I intend to stay here so I am invested in this country.  Today I was relieved to be able to exercise my right and responsibility as a US citizen.

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On Being Disenfranchised

My youngest son’s preschool is serving as a polling station today.  At both drop off and pick up I was asked if I was there to vote and both times I explained that, sadly no, as an immigrant I was not entitled to vote.  This is a difficult thing for me.

My Gran was intensely, fervently, obsessively political.  She had stridently held opinions on every subject and she was politically active in trying to change the things she believed needed to be changed.  Some of my happiest childhood memories of time spent with her involve being at protests and on rallies.  I suppose, therefore, that I learned to be politically engaged at her knee.  My family taught me early on how important it was to actively participate in democracy, that to not cast a vote is to undermine the very principle of democracy, to inform yourself and to cast your vote accordingly.  People fought and died to earn me the right to vote and I should wield that right and be thankful for it.  In due course, I registered to vote as soon as I was old enough to do so and cast my first vote as soon as I was able.  In my entire adult life, I have only failed to vote once – in a local election because I was in hospital having a baby.  I think that might be a reasonable excuse, maybe even one my Gran would have permitted.

When my husband and I were discussing the pros and cons of moving from Scotland to America, therefore, one of the items on the list was the fact I would not be able to vote.  I would be abiding by and controlled by the laws of and paying the taxes to a country I had no electoral power in.  As a resident and especially as the mother of four children, I would have a stake in a country but would have no political voice.  That was a Big Deal for me.  It became part of my difficulty with feeling like a Non-Person upon arriving here.  Like my Gran, I have passionately held views and opinions, values and beliefs, and it is frustrating to not be able to invest those in moulding the future of a state and nation I am now raising my children in.  

I am very liberal and left wing.  I am a socialist who believes to the core of my being that the haves and the cans have a moral obligation and a social duty to support and protect those who have not and who can’t.  I am against capital punishment, for equal rights across the board, pro gun control … an endless list of issues on which my new homeland and I are somewhat out of synch.  Right now I have no ability to shape the laws in regard to any of these core issues.  When it comes down to brass tacks, I cannot even vote for the local dog catcher let alone who nominally represents me in Congress, the Senate or the White House.

If and when I take up US Citizenship, it will primarily be motivated by my desire to vote, to participate fully in the democratic process once more, to have my say in a country I now have an important stake in.  For now, however, I just have to hope that the winds of change and the franchise being taken up by each new generation might move things along in a direction that more accords with my stance on key issues.  On that note, today a Federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage.  That I now live in a state that recognises marriage equality makes me very happy indeed and gives me hope in more ways than one.  Today, therefore, at least feels like an easier day on which to be disenfranchised. 


I don’t intend for this blog to be on a “living the dream” theme or for it to only showcase sunshine and lollipops.  I want this blog to truly reflect my experience as an immigrant to the US and, let’s face it, not every day is going to be a gentle breeze with prevailing unicorn farts.  Getting to the US was a tough slog and I, therefore, fully anticipated part of the slog to continue.  This, therefore, is my first post that’s a bit Eeyore gloomy.

I have arrived in the US as a Legal Permanent Resident.  (My children have become US citizens upon arrival as they are now the children of a resident US citizen parent.)  We took the Direct Consular Filing route through immigration meaning that we were processed through the US Embassy in London which theoretically makes for a smoother, easier journey.  Certainly we found it to be pretty straightforward – demanding, of course, expensive definitely, but with no glitches or surprises.  I, therefore, am now entitled to a green card and social security number, both of which I applied for in advance as part of the process the children and I undertook.  Meanwhile, however, I am in limbo waiting for these documents to turn up.  Because until I have those documents in my possession, I am a bit of a non-person.

So much here is dependent on having a social security number that there are barriers everywhere preventing me making progress because of my lack of SSN at this given moment in time.  My husband and I have a joint US bank account yet I cannot access cash from an ATM or use my debit card because I have been unable to register it without an SSN.  This is my biggest deal.  From having been able to pay for things independently, I am now in the position of having to ask my husband for money.  Of course, it is our money so I am not quite a kept woman receiving pin money but, nevertheless, my psyche is out of sorts because I am having to exist on little bits of cash here and there and really think about every dollar and cent that is in my purse.  It will be a bit of a celebratory moment for me when I finally have independent access to my own money.

There is an election in the US on 5 November.  I have voted in every single election in which I was eligible to vote (with the exception of one local election I missed because of being in labour – valid excuse I think) because exercising my democratic right to vote is very important to me.  The franchise was fought and won by people who in some instances literally gave their lives in the cause of making their countries truly democratic.  I am also politically aware and have strong opinions.  Now, of course, I am living in a country where I am not entitled to vote.  I am disenfranchised.  Right now that does not feel like such a massive deal but if I think of the future and continuing to have a political stake in a country (because I live here and am raising my children here) while having no political voice here that, again, reminds me of my non-person status.  The right to vote may well be the thing that drives me to seek citizenship at some juncture.

This all comes on top of a baseline feeling of regression.  In Scotland, I was a fully fledged adult, able to operate fully and independently, understanding all the systems, routine and structures of everyday life.  Here I don’t even have a sound grasp of basic things like volume measurements and I am very slow at making change because, of course, I am trained to add up cash in different denominations.  Whereas I could drive in the UK almost on autopilot, here I am having to concentrate at each junction, stop sign and traffic light because the rules are different.  All those little differences that make me have to stop and think and figure things out make me feel as if I have regressed from adulthood to being a teenager again, just embarking on an independent life.  It’s quite a discombobulating feeling.

Of course, these woes are all short term.  At some point in the not too distant future I will receive my green card and SSN and can be a fully functioning adult here.  But, nevertheless, it was important to record this gripe here on this blog for the sake of truth because I am sure ever so often being an immigrant will suck.