Donald Trump’s presidency, in less than two years, has already had arguably the most direct—and adverse—impact on Americans who can’t vote than any other president’s in modern American history. Whether it’s undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, convicts who lost their franchise, or high schoolers under 18 championing gun reform, they have decided that this year, they need their voices to be heard in this election.
Their American futures look direr to them under Trump. And while they can’t vote, they’re not powerless. They want voters to champion their causes and vote on their behalf. Thus The Love Vote was born.
Roughly 50 million American residents, including high school students, former felons, and non-citizen residents, will be unable to vote in the midterms. And as the protests organized by Parkland students, the various ballot initiatives to enfranchise the formerly incarcerated, and our fights to save DACA and TPS (Temporary Protection Status, which allowed them to immigrate to the United States due to natural disasters or armed conflicts in their home country) show, their futures in America hang in the balance.
The Love Vote provides a platform for these voting-inelgible Americans to speak to enrolled voters. They create videos and share their stories so that their issues are not forgotten when people make it to the polls.
The Love Vote’s premise is pretty simple. It functions like a crowdfunding website. But instead of raising money, it raises votes.
On the site, people can post a video with a goal of obtaining a certain number of “love votes.” A visitor to the site is captivated by a person’s story and promises to vote on behalf of that person. The Love Vote will send reminders to that visitor about the person. It will help the visitor register to vote and even find his or her local voting station.
Obviously, The Love Vote can’t make people vote for a particular candidate, but it can remind them of the issues they care about. Ideally this will help voters not forget about the disenfranchised Americans who need their help and get more people out to the polls this November.
Esther de Rothschild, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former high school teacher, created The Love Vote earlier this year after her high school students expressed their frustrations at not being able to vote in the midterm elections. Midterm elections normally see significant drops in voter turnout, especially amongst minority and young voters, compared to presidential elections, so this spike in interest caught her attention.
De Rothschild’s project quickly expanded beyond just high school students and now includes non-citizen American residents, and former convicts whose voting rights have been taken away. The Love Vote is also actively campaigning in Florida for Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to convicted felons.
“There are people who feel disconnected from the system, alienated, distrustful, and feel their vote doesn’t matter. The Love Vote provides a reason by saying it matters to your neighbors and others who can’t vote,” said de Rothschild to The Daily Beast.
Nearly 47 percent of eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election, and according to the Pew Research Center 15 percent did not vote because they felt “their vote wouldn’t make a difference.” Another 14 percent said they were “too busy.” And largest of all, 25 percent said because they “did not like candidates or campaign issues.”
Many of de Rothschild’s students wanted to vote in favor of gun control, but a lot of them also have friends and family members who are not American citizens. These students wanted to vote so that they could have a voice to protect themselves from gun violence, and also to help their friends and family stay together.
Aicha Cherif, 17, a former student of de Rothschild, posted a video on The Love Vote asking people to vote for gun control on her behalf. Cherif also is not an American citizen, but she has a green card. Her mother sent her to America to live with her grandparents when she was only a year old to avoid genital mutation in their home country of Guinea in West Africa. The policies of the Trump administration have made her worry if she’ll still have a place in America. And since she’s an American high school student, gun control has become her main political focus.
“As a high school student, gun violence is not something that you can decide to care about. This is the reality. This is our life now,” Cherif told me. “I didn’t choose to be a gun violence activist, you just sort of have to become one now.”
Alex Lebon, who lives in Miami, is a TPS recipient from Haiti who moved to the United States following the earthquake in 2010. Trump’s decision to end TPS for thousands of Haitians means that she may have to return to Haiti in 2019 and face an uncertain future in a nation that is still recovering from the earthquake.
“If I go back I have to give up all of my efforts for eight years,” said Lebon. “I saw myself living here forever.”
Lebon, who speaks four languages, has family members who are American citizens, and spent a lot of her youth visiting family in America. Even in Haiti, American culture has a big influence, so she always saw this country as her second home.
Trump’s TPS decision and the lower voter turnout in Miami has turned Lebon into an activist. “I wanted to share my story to inspire people to vote. By saying that you are going to stay home and not vote, you’re affecting someone that you know,” said Lebon. “I knew a lot of people that didn’t vote in the last election.
As America becomes more fractured and chaotic during Trump’s presidency, countering the division and craven self-interest he has fostered, by bringing people together and emphasizing the communal benefit of voting, might be exactly what we need right now.
“The Love Vote can increase voter turnout, that’s our aim,” said de Rothschild. “We do a lot of things for people that we love and voting is something you can do for the people that you love.”