When meeting new people or catching up with passing acquaintances, we are often asked a recurring set of questions based on our expected position in life. The recently married might be asked about honeymoons or plans for children, new parents might be asked about the child’s gender or plans for additional kids. Newly graduated students like myself typically encounter questions like, “Where did you graduate from?” and "What are you going to do now?" and “What did you study?” I tell them I went to USM and am thrilled to be working at the ACLU of Maine. However, when I say that I studied sociology, I’m typically given a polite nod of vague recognition while the person searches for some other point of connection. While unfamiliar to many, sociology is a relevant and accessible discipline that explores two reciprocal questions: how does society shape its individuals and how do individuals shape their society? I’ll demonstrate some sociological thinking by analyzing this November’s hottest ballot issue—same-day voter registration.

First, sociologists examine the big-picture and ask, “What does society look like?” Empirical scientific observation examines institutions, culture, history, and demographics. Take government for example. Our Maine government has let its citizens register and vote in the same trip for the past 38 years. In June, however, politicians decided to eliminate same-day voter registration, meaning that the 68,030 voters who used the option in the last two election cycles will now be required to make an additional trip to their town hall. Looking nationally, we see that Maine is not alone: thirteen other states have passed laws making voting more challenging. All totaled, these restrictive measures make voting more difficult for 5 million people.

Next, a sociologist would ask, “How does society affect the individuals living in it?” Two specific individuals come to mind when asking this question. First, I think of my mother who typically works overtime in a gun factory in my hometown of Houlton, Maine. Often she ends her days so exhausted that even cooking dinner feels like a chore; being able to register and vote on the same day is a huge convenience for her. Secondly, Dorothy Cooper comes to mind. She is a 96-year-old woman in Tennessee who has missed only one election in 70 years; she will have to miss another because of these voter-suppression efforts across the country. That one vote she missed? It was because “a move made her miss the registration deadline” (see here). Tennessee might consider taking a cue from Maine and passing same-day voter registration—it has been working well here for the past 38 years. Voting is one way in which we can feel connected to something bigger than ourselves; it’s a way that we express our desires to change what isn’t working or keep what is. Why make this process more difficult for hardworking people like my mother or dedicated voters like Dorothy Cooper? Why create a society in which we only pretend citizens have a say?

Finally, sociologists will ask, “What do people do make a difference in their society?”  As individuals, one thing we can do is vote. And today is your day! Go out and Vote Yes on 1. Voting Yes on 1 will ensure we keep same-day voter registration working here in Maine. Sociologists typically study how groups form movements. You might consider teaming up with one of our 23 coalition partners to volunteer on the campaign’s GOTV effort. Give us a call here at the ACLU of Maine and we’ll be happy to sign you up for a volunteer shift. With our combined efforts and majority Yes on 1 vote, we can make sure people really participate in our democracy.