PEERS Perspectives is a blog series that offers thoughts and reflections from our staff and community members on mental health, current events, and the ways they affect our lives.

Today’s post on voting is written by PEERS Interim Executive Director Jules Plumadore.

I recently moved to a new apartment, and even before I was fully unpacked, one of the first things I did was update my voter registration. I was able to do it online in only a few minutes, and I received my new voter registration card in the mail about a week later.

I approached the task with a sense of urgency and importance, so it’s sometimes easy for me to forget how recently I’ve become a regular voter. For much of my life I didn’t vote because I didn’t feel like voting was relevant for me.

Since my teens, I’ve lived with a variety of mental health conditions. While I’m doing great today as a result of peer support and mental health recovery principles, the mental health experiences I had during my 20s were debilitating. At that time in my life, every day felt like a struggle and voting simply wasn’t on my radar.

But even after I found tools and strategies to effectively support my mental health, I didn’t start voting regularly until I was in my 40s.

Why? There were a lot of reasons:

  • Stigma. Early on, I assumed that I didn’t have the right to vote because of my mental health history. While people with mental health conditions have been historically disenfranchised – and still are in some places – this is no longer the case in California (with some limited exceptions regarding conservatorship).
  • Fear. Like many people with mental health histories, I have more than one marginalized identity. As a low-income transgender person, there were times during my transition when the only ID I had did not match my appearance or gender expression. I was afraid that if I tried to use it to vote, I would be denied and perhaps singled out publicly, which might put me at physical or emotional risk. I didn’t realize I could vote using an absentee (vote-by-mail) ballot and never have to visit a polling place at all.
  • Lack of representation. Even when I started to pay more attention to politics, I didn’t feel there was anyone out there representing my interests. Over the course of years of mental health advocacy, I came to realize that the only way I can ensure my voice is represented is to use it, and to vote for representatives who will pay attention to it.

I can’t go back in time to regain those years when I wasn’t an active voter; but I have made a commitment to vote in both local and national elections for the rest of my life. I’ve discovered that using my voice and my vote can help create the change I want to see in the world.

Between now and the national elections on Tuesday, November 3, 2o2o, PEERS will be providing voting information and resources on our website, blog, and social media. Whether you’re a regular voter or new to the process, we hope you’ll stay engaged with us and share your thoughts, questions, and experiences along the way.