Meredith Reilly and Zachary Houdek realized that they would have to go the extra mile to make sure their votes were counted in the 2020 presidential election
While most of us grew up looking forward to birthdays and holidays, all Meredith Reilly could think about as a young girl growing up in Texas was the 2020 presidential election. "Ever since I was little, I knew I would be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election," she told WFAA. "I did that math, so I was really excited to vote in a presidential election. It was really exciting." Her childhood enthusiasm carried on to her youth as well where — as a junior at American University in Washington, DC — she became a strong advocate for exercising one's right to vote.
20 hour drive to vote? No problem @zjhoudek pic.twitter.com/XlFwbQH6kK— Meredith Reilly (@mereileen) October 29, 2020
As a political science student who hopes to work in politics after graduation, Reilly was determined to take part in the democratic process this heated election season and submitted by mail an application for an absentee ballot from the Tarrant County Elections Administration in August. However, as months passed and election day fast approached, the 20-year-old had still not received confirmation that her request had even been processed. "I was waiting and waiting, and then I realized my name was not in the system. I realized I might not be able to vote at all. That’s when I was a little upset, I guess," said Reilly.
American University students and first-time voters Meredith Reilly and Zachary Houdek drove from Washington D.C. to their home state of Texas to cast their ballots for the 2020 election. https://t.co/VCLeoRZM1q— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) October 29, 2020
Although she requested a new ballot as soon as she found out, the young woman realized that by the time she received it, filled it out, and mailed it back, it would be too late. "This is not normal," said Reilly. "It should not be this hard to vote." Her friend, Zachary Houdek — who lives in Austin and also attends American University — had also not received his mail-in ballot with just over a week until Election Day and the pair realized that they would have to go the extra mile to make sure their votes were counted in the 2020 presidential election.
These two Texas voters became worried because their absentee ballots never arrived.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 30, 2020
So they rented a Volkswagen Golf and drove 30 hours across half a dozen states to cast their votes in Texas this week. https://t.co/ueUnWfGlxN
And go the extra mile they did. Quite literally. The two rented a car and drove 1400 miles across the country from Washington, DC, to Texas to cast their ballots in person. The taxing drive took them a total of 27 hours, reports CNN, with them stopping only briefly at a Tennessee motel to sleep for a few hours. "Neither of us were planning on coming home to Texas for Thanksgiving. We were going to stay in the Northeast," Reilly told Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We just had to make sure our votes counted for the presidential election, as well as down-ballot."
Two college students drive 20 hours to cast their ballots in Texas https://t.co/sd61u7nOcP pic.twitter.com/hAHCOCk4VM— The Hill (@thehill) October 31, 2020
Reilly pointed out that no one should have to conquer purple mountains majesty or drive from sea to shining sea in order to vote. While she is aware that on its own, her one, singular vote won't determine the outcome of this election, she hopes it will provide the momentum that brings together the now divided nation. "If a lot of individuals decide that their vote matters, then it comes together to make a bigger movement that could change people’s lives drastically," she said. "We're particularly motivated. I never expected my vote to matter that much. But this election is getting very close and exciting."
Two college students from Texas drove from their school in Washington D.C. back to their home state to vote in the 2020 election when their plans to vote absentee could not happen. https://t.co/fVW9W6RcJc -- @nbcdfw— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 29, 2020
Speaking to American University about what motivated them to make the long drive home for the election, Houdek said: "This election is probably the most important election that we're ever going to have in our lifetimes. It is absolutely monumental. And being American University students who are so politically engaged, we’re telling all of our friends and family all the time, 'You have to go vote. Did you request your mail-in ballot? Have you made a plan for it?' We urged them on social media, in person. Once we realized that we weren’t going to be able to vote because our ballots hadn't come, we thought, 'We can't be those hypocrites telling everyone to go vote, and then we didn’t.' Because we had the means to do it."
"It was just so important in the whole grand scheme of the election, arguably deciding what could happen for the rest of our lives in issues like climate policy and US foreign policy as well. That was one of the biggest things for me," he added. "The next four years are going to determine whether or not the US is going to be able to maintain its status as one of the world leaders, and I didn't think Trump would be able to do that. I had to go home to make my voice heard in that decision."