In Thank You for Voting (Harper, June.), journalist Geiger Smith examines the history of voting rights in America.
What drew you to the subject of voting?
After the 2016 election, it felt like there were more questions than answers for me personally—about the electoral college, gerrymandering, and turnout, for example. All of those questions began percolating, and any way I thought about it, it came back to voting.
Did you learn anything new? Why do you think it’s important for people to know the history of voting in America?
I learned so much. I went to law school and worked as a legal reporter, so I’ve known about many of these cases for a long time, but when I really sat down and looked at the timeline, I was surprised by how often history repeats itself. Anytime someone was successful in expanding voting rights, immediately people tried to disenfranchise them. That still happens today, with issues that affect young people, for example, like whether college IDs can be used to vote. It’s really instructive to accept that, as much as this country may have this ideal that everyone should vote, it doesn’t always play out that way. That said, I think if we all keep our eyes on the issues that affect certain groups of voters, we can make sure that access continues to grow rather than be limited.
Your style and tone are very youthful. Did you set out to write for young people?
From the start I was sort of astonished by how low turnout is for the 18–29 age group. I think we fail to educate this group on the basics of the system. And if you start voting when you’re young, you continue to vote as you get older. It was important to me to speak to that age group, but honestly I hope that people who are lifelong voters read it as well, because, number one, there’s so much history in there. The book is really for anyone who feels like we could be doing better—both in educating people on voting and increasing turnout.
What’s the most important thing people can do to get their friends and family to vote?
It’s really just reaching out and helping them make a plan to vote, and nagging them in the nicest possible way. This is a place where peer pressure works. But it’s not just making sure people vote. It’s making sure they know how and when to register, and when the elections are. Making sure they know what they need to take with them. Choose three to five people you think might not vote and make it easier by letting them know all the deadlines and other information they need. And make it fun—you can vote together, or send each other your stickers. I love the idea of voting parties in cities and communities, or even just among groups of friends.