I voted for the first time in 2020. After four years of Donald Trump’s divisive presidency, I was determined to make change with my vote. But in November, I was crushed to learn that my vote may never be counted.
My name is Trajae Lackland, and I’m a 23-year-old student at the University of Iowa. I’m also one of the 22 voters fighting to make sure my legal vote is counted — especially in the closest federal contest in nearly 100 years, the race for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.
Last fall, a friend and I voted early on campus to accommodate our class schedules and avoid the stress of Election Day in the middle of a pandemic. When we arrived at our polling location, I was given my ballot, and I marked it and put it in the official envelope. I specifically remember the experience of licking the glue on the envelope, pressing it shut and locking in my first vote. I was proud. Then I put my ballot in the collection slot and went about my day. For the first time, I’d used my voice to pick my community’s leaders.
Days after the election, I received a message saying my vote hadn’t been counted. My initial reaction was, “How can that be?” I voted in person. I remember sealing the envelope and submitting it. Despite following every rule, my ballot had been rejected because an election worker claimed the envelope was “not properly sealed.”
I immediately thought about the men and women before me who fought for my right to vote and the rights of Black Americans like me. Learning that my first attempt to take part in our democracy was unsuccessful hurts my heart. My disappointment has grown as I watch some in Iowa — including those who represent me — do everything in their power to keep my vote from being counted.
All politics aside, I have been awestruck watching Republicans in our state fight to keep my vote from being counted. Politicians like Mariannette Miller-Meeks claim that all of the votes in this race have been counted. If anyone knows that not to be true, it is me.
In fact, at least 22 people like myself legally voted, yet our votes haven’t been counted.
Whether or not my vote gets counted is now up to the U.S. House of Representatives. The only person fighting to have my vote counted, Rita Hart, has filed a petition under the Federal Contested Elections Act to make sure every Iowan’s vote is accurately counted. While counting our votes should be an easy decision, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, along with Republicans who have never met me, is doing everything in her power to prevent our voices from being heard.
This is a historic opportunity for the U.S. House of Representatives to show that every vote matters. If this was your vote, wouldn’t you want our leaders to make sure your voice was heard? It’s time for them to do the right thing.
I want my vote to count.
Trajae Lackland is a 23-year-old resident of Iowa City, Iowa. He is currently studying recreational therapy at the University of Iowa.