Forget the lunch break. In this election, with the massive increase in postal votes due to the coronavirus pandemic, some voters took desperate measures to get to the polls on time.
Just ask Rishi Mohnot. The 31-year-old was traveling across the country for work and only found out five days before polling day that he had missed the deadline for applying for a postal vote.
But Mohnot, who is from Pittsburgh, is registered in Pennsylvania – a swing state believed to be a key player in this election. So there was only one solution: he caught a roach flight from his brother’s home in San Francisco, where he lived, back to his family’s home in Pennsylvania.
His flight, which he covered with his sky miles, left California at 11:45 p.m. and landed Mohnot in his home state at 11:30 a.m. this morning.
“I wasn’t 100% because I have a busy job,” Mohnot told CNN minutes after he cast his vote. “I just realized that if I just voted in person it would be easier.”
The flight and line to vote this morning were pretty empty, Mohnot said. He and his father voted this afternoon around 2:30 p.m. ET, and they both cast their ballots in less than 10 minutes.
Mohnot is among the countless American voters who have either missed the deadline to apply for a postal vote or received none at all.
Regardless of whether it is a matter of postal delivery errors, misprints, or the sheer number of people voting for the first time by mail on this election, states are overwhelmed. And for people who have the means, booking a last minute flight has become an expensive solution to ensuring their vote is counted.
The experience was “worth it,” said Mohnot. “My family was initially surprised by what I was doing. But it also seemed the right thing to do. “
“It’s shocking how common my story is.”
In Kenya, Suud Olat is afraid to vote by mail.
The 29-year-old, who splits his time between Kenya and Minnesota, is a community activist who became a U.S. citizen in 2018. He had originally planned to return to the United States later this year before realizing it wouldn’t. Don’t give him enough time to vote.
When he asked the U.S. Embassy for help, he realized that his best bet was to postpone his flight. Olat dropped $ 1,200 to book a flight from Nairobi, Kenya, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he is registered as a voter.
To return home, Olat said he flew from Nairobi to Frankfurt for New York City at 11 p.m. on Sunday before landing in Minneapolis at 5 p.m. on Monday. He had come to the elections this morning and appeared to vote at 8 a.m. local time.
“As Somali-American, my family and I were nervous about this choice,” Olat told CNN. “I’m really scared of what’s going to happen and I knew I had to vote.”
In Iowa, Ade Olayinka was similarly afraid of election day.
The 31-year-old Washington, DC resident lived with her sister in Iowa during the pandemic. Despite calling the DC Board of Elections several times, she said the ballot did not get to her sister’s address in time.
So Olayinka booked a $ 500 round-trip flight to DC this past weekend. She left on Friday and managed to get to an early voting location on time before flying back to Iowa on Sunday.
“It’s shocking how common my story is,” Olayinka told CNN. “I called the electoral authority, even after I bought my ticket, to see if they could send it to me in time. The woman I spoke to sounded so tired and so depressed. You are all so overwhelmed. “
Since Olayinka had vacated her apartment before moving in with her sister, she had to book a hotel for the weekend and a rental car to get around. In total, she spent nearly $ 1,000 on an election trip.
Olayinka said she considered herself lucky enough to be able to afford it.
“Nobody should have to do that”
In August, 31-year-old Jaclyn Wong and her partner immigrated from where they live in South Carolina to California to stay with their family during the pandemic.
They had reached out to the South Carolina Electoral Board for postal ballot papers in California and were assured they might be fine.
“We’d already asked for ballots for my family’s California home,” Wong told CNN. “When I called, I said I had mail forwarding set up to go to California (and asked) if I need to update this postal voting request to include a new address for California, or if my choice is arriving by mail forwarding? But the person I spoke to said I am fine and I don’t have to. “
In October, Wong began checking the status of her postal voting online online. She saw it had been mailed on October 9, but by the end of the month she said she still had not received it at her family’s California address.
So, Wong, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina, had to do something she didn’t plan to do multiple times during a pandemic: she caught another flight – this time back to South Carolina.
The US Center for Disease Control claims that air travel “can increase your chances” of coming into contact with coronavirus and continues to recommend that people stay at home. For Wong, the fear of catching Covid-19 became an added stress on the voting process this year.
“The entire experience was terrifying,” Wong, 31, told CNN. “I’m totally angry that I had to go through this.”
She said she spent about $ 550 on a plane ticket to South Carolina and crossed three airports before getting home in time to cast her vote on October 28.
When she got to the polls, Wong said she had to stand in line for about an hour.
“If I hadn’t been someone as privileged as I was, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” said Wong. “For me, that’s not what a free democracy is. Nobody should have to do that. “