“Have you registered to vote?” The lady behind the thick plate of glass asked.
“No.” I answered.
“Why do you answer for her? I am asking her?” The lady said, pointing to my friend W.
I translated for W and W shook her head. So I said “No” across the glass barrier again.
“Do you want to register to vote?” The lady asked. People could register right here at the DMV when they renew their license.
I translated for W and W shook her head.
“No, she doesn’t want to.” I replied. The lady looked at me and then looked at W, and didn’t say anything, but I could feel her thinly veiled contempt. I felt really hurt. I would feel better if she yelled at W that she’s being irresponsible and it’s her duty to vote. Seriously. I would feel more comfortable if she yelled.
“It’s on Tuesday. She has to work to pay bills. Also New Jersey is not a swing state.” I said, trying in vain to spin this to W’s advantage. The lady wanted to say something, but she stopped herself. Somehow I felt she’s accusing W of something–moral ineptitude or dereliction of duty–in a polite way, and in a righteous way, and I was guilty by association.
Holding her newly renewed license, W smiled happily. For months, DMV was swarmed by endless queues and unimaginable large number of people, which had prevented W getting her renew. She was so worried. If she’s stopped by the police on the highway, she won’t be able to explain her expired license. With her limited English, it’s impossible. Finally, she doesn’t need to worry about it anymore.
“How can I vote? I don’t even know English.” W said to me as we were walking out of the one story building. There are three burly guys wearing jacket with “SECURITY” printed on the back and they were talking about the presidential election. North Jersey, South Jersey and the northwestern part of Jersey can be republican territories, but in our area, the Central Jersey, it’s solid democrat stronghold for as long as anybody can remember.
“You are right. There should be multi-lingual voting booth in New Jersey.” I said. W agreed. We know that’s not going to happen, but it feels good to say it. Now I think of it, it is almost impossible for immigrants to vote if they know limited English. Just think of the ballot, with all the questions and all the candidates. W would have trouble to understand the ballot. She needs to take a class and be tutored before she can exercise her rights and fulfill her duty. I don’t know if there are such classes in those swing states, for example Pennsylvania, but I do believe that there won’t be such classes in a non-swing state like New Jersey.
Probably people would say W should learn English. However that’s not going to happen. She works six days a week from 10AM to 10PM. The one day off is used to run all kinds of errands. When is she ever going to find the time to study English? Well, probably not having time is just a convenient excuse. W is not interested in study. She’s interested in earning money and paying bills and chasing after her dreams. Even if she has time, a very big if that is, she won’t use it on studying.