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Unaffiliated voters, it’s OK to be ‘that guy’

I have a confession: I hate being “that guy.”

You’ll know who I’m talking about.

It’s the man who goes through the drive-through line twice because he asked for barbecue sauce and got ranch.

It’s the woman turning around at the register, pointing out that she got $3.77 in change when it should have been $3.79.

It’s the gender-neutral cause of a slow line, of a minor inconvenience to customer service personnel and customers alike.

Me? I’d rather sacrifice a penny or peel the tomatoes off my own sandwich, thank you very much.

But Wednesday, something happened that forced my hand. My nonconfrontational nature almost cost me my opportunity to vote.

For background, I’m an unaffiliated voter and a recent transplant to Rowan County. I decided to take advantage of one-stop early voting Wednesday morning to register at the Board of Elections Office.

Everything was smooth sailing. And then they handed me my ballot.

It had one question: the city of Salisbury’s Fibrant lease referendum.

“Don’t I get to choose which party primary to vote in?” I asked.

“No, that’s it.”

Had I read the information wrong from the Board of Elections website? I knew there was a deadline to update your address within the same county, but I was coming from Iredell. Was I still too late to participate in the primary?

I took my sparse sheet to the voter stand. I stared at it. I thought more of the above questions and of asking again.

Then I filled in my solitary bubble, slid the paper into the machine and left.

Well, almost.

I got as far as my car before a feeling of unease overtook me. I’d been trying to convince myself: “I’m just one person. It’s not worth pitching a stink. It was probably my error.”

But then I realized, what if this is happening to more people? What if everyone thought, “I’m just one person?”

I took the safe route for the confrontationally disinclined: I called the front office. Someone told me that I should have been given the option to vote in a party-affiliated primary.

A brief moment of personal panic over casting my ballot followed that validation. Fortunately, the Board of Elections staff was quite accommodating.

This was their error, said Elections Director Nancy Evans, as she worked with me to cast a second, provisional ballot.

The error turned out to be an unfilled box in a computer form that assigned me a ballot, but I’m still left wondering: How many more voters out there will come through like me? How many more will pass up the opportunity to vote for fear of causing stress, of looking uninformed?

Unaffiliated voters, I encourage you to take advantage of North Carolina’s semi-open primaries as you journey to the polls in the coming weeks. It may take an extra second, another question, but you should be given the option to choose which ballot you want: Democrat or Republican.

Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Be “that guy,” so others will use their voices too.

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