Read Part 1 of our Trek Out the Vote interviews here!
The right to vote empowers citizens by giving them a say in who is elected to represent them at the local, state, and federal levels. As the world continues to mourn voting rights advocate and United States Congressman John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we are reminded that the fight to establish voting as a universal liberty to be enjoyed equally by all is an ongoing effort. An individual’s vote becomes even more influential during a presidential election year, so it is vital that citizens ensure they are registered and exercise their right to be heard when the time comes.
While Election Day 2020 is scheduled for November 3rd, many Americans will be turning to mail-in ballots due to the social distancing measures enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Considering potential delays with the U.S. Postal Service, citizens who vote by mail should start the voting process at least two weeks before their ballots must be received.
With this crucial date approaching, StarTrek.com checked in with cast members from throughout the Star Trek universe to hear their personal opinions on the election and learn why they believe voting is such a crucial element of our society.
Robert Picardo (The Doctor, Star Trek: Voyager)
“Voting is incredibly important, because it is our individual voice as Americans. It is the most direct way that we can effect change in our system of democracy. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about mail-in voting. We’re in the middle of a pandemic so, as responsible and patriotic Americans, we’re supposed to self-distance, avoid large crowds, and wear masks. All of these things are difficult to do while waiting in line to vote, especially if your community does not have a lot of voting locations. Therefore, as many of us as possible should be voting by mail.
The most important thing for people to do is check their voter registration and obtain an absentee ballot. The best way to do this is to go to Vote.org immediately, as you read my words [laughs], and check your voter registration status. Make sure it is current, your address is correct, and that you are either going to automatically receive a mail-in ballot or fill out a form to receive one.
You should submit your mail-in ballot as soon as possible, because there are forces that are trying to limit the number of votes .... Get your absentee ballot and vote as early as you can to make sure that your vote is counted. There is a threat of active suppression that we must all stand up against. If people want to take more direct action, I highly recommend that they visit the Americans of Conscience website. That group lists a number of activities to help protect the vote in your state.
In 1976, my friend Joe Pantoliano and I went to vote together. It was only my second presidential election, and I had never voted in a New York voting booth before. I cranked the big lever that closed the curtain behind me, but I didn’t understand fully that you vote and then crank it back. I cranked it over and back, so the curtain closed and immediately opened. While I was trying to make my selection, not knowing that I just wasted my vote, I heard Joe Pantoliano burst into laughter. Joey and I proceeded to spend the next four hours downtown, where we appealed to a judge and explained that I was too stupid to know how to vote correctly (laughs).
I suggest you keep my negative example in mind and educate yourself as much as possible about the voting experience. I was so excited to cast my vote for Jimmy Carter, and I almost ended up wasting my vote for Carter. Be prepared for the voting process, especially if you are voting in a presidential election for the first time. My good friend Megan Gallagher, who appeared in multiple Star Trek episodes, has a daughter named Andrea Yagher who founded a group called Our First Vote. Their goal is to get young people charged up about having their voice heard in this election. Due to the pandemic and the sameness of our days, I think there is a certain malaise that can set in as one day blends into the next. Now is the time to get motivated.”
John Billingsley (Phlox, Star Trek: Enterprise)
“Voting is the one thing that we, as citizens, have a moral obligation to do. Participating in a democracy means voting on those issues and individuals that are seminal. At the least, you can show up for that. Voting is something that should be encouraged, and Election Day needs to be a national holiday. We must have a nationwide policy, because certain states restrict suffrage in a way that should be unconstitutional. In fact, I think we should make voting mandatory and fine people for not voting, as they do in Australia. The way you get an informed populace is by asking them to participate. We have accepted a level of apathy in our country, and we’re paying the price for it.
In this election, we have a choice to vote on whether or not democracy itself should survive. In my mind, we currently have an [one political] party that has completely lost its moral credibility when it comes to freedom and democracy. The combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and an attempt to dramatically curtail the post office’s ability to function during an election where there will have to be mail-in ballots… [that party] is attempting to diminish suffrage, and I think that is an obscenity. It is antithetical to what our democracy should be about. Our democracy should be predicated on the idea that every citizen has a right and a moral obligation to participate via the ballot box.”
Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
“Voting is an important way to exercise your right and exert your influence on how we are governed. It’s important to be involved with the policies that impact your life. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people… thus it requires the people! Changes don’t come about without the voice of the people. The Civil Rights movement resulted from citizens who went out and actively asked for the kind of change that they wanted to see. They did it in a peaceful yet productive way, and that change manifested. Be involved, educate yourself, speak up on things that you believe are important, and be as righteous about it as possible.
People vote for things that affect their lives. Candidates need to be addressing those issues, and those issues are usually backed by groups that are consolidated to represent them. For Black people in particular, our power needs to be claimed in a consolidated way. We need to have the issues in our community addressed by politicians so that we are not just an afterthought. There are policies being passed to legislate all aspects of life, but those things are advocated for by groups. Black people need to have those types of groups advocating on our behalf. We need to have discussions on topics that directly influence our community. That includes education, businesses, banking practices… the systemic issues that particularly affect people of our race.
The innate question that all people have for any candidates asking for our support is, “What are you going to do for me?” What is going to be done for the Black community is never really put out at the forefront with any specificity. What are you going to do for Black and brown people, and how are you going to improve their lives? Humans all live with the same core issues, from feeding our families and putting a roof over our heads to striving to become better than what we are and improving our lives. Those issues cross the whole spectrum of representation. Those are primary goals for everyone to survive and thrive. We can’t continue to have our Black community be put on the back burner of the agenda moving forward. We need to know, “What are you going to do for me?” It’s a fair enough question to ask, I think.
In addition to voting on the ballot, we all vote with our dollars. We choose to go to a certain business or neighborhood to invest our money. That’s another issue that needs to be addressed for the Black community. If we’re conscious about where our dollars go and how they affect us, we can invest those dollars in a way that benefits our communities, as well. We’ve come a long way and broken many barriers, but we must continue to educate and elevate ourselves to achieve the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris, Star Trek: Voyager)
“As we saw in the last presidential election, the popular vote had one candidate in the lead, but because of the Electoral College and the way our country is set up, the popular vote doesn’t always reflect the actual winner of the election. I think that the more people who get involved, the more closely aligned the result will be with the will of the majority of the people. If less citizens vote, our complicated system and its laws can more easily reveal itself. The last election was certainly an example of that.
When I’m directing or producing, I find we get a much better product if the whole company - the cast, the crew, the grips, the camera operators, everybody - is involved, invested, and participating in making the show. If I come in to work on a show and bring a lot of passion, but no one else is really invested, then we don’t end up with a great episode. For me, it’s the same way with our country. If we only have a few people who are in control and invested, and God forbid those few people have selfish concerns or priorities other than the people in this country, then we don’t end up with a good government.
It’s not just voting, but also becoming active in your communities, participating in civic work, and learning about what’s going on in your neighborhood, your town, your county… when we have more people involved in the process, we end up with a better country. If everybody sits back and lets a few people take control, it’s very dangerous.”
Patti Yasutake (Alyssa Ogawa, Star Trek: The Next Generation)
“Science, truth, diversity are all under attack, and now our democracy itself. We’re at the point where this year’s vote will define us. Do we love and value democracy enough to participate? Do we really believe in “indivisible with liberty and justice for all?” “We the People” are supposed to choose who governs us and makes the laws we live by. It all starts with our vote. The alarmingly dangerous lengths people go to try suppressing our vote is a screaming reminder - the vote is everything.
In my own life - without people fighting for fair voting rights - I would’ve been denied my fundamental American right to vote and been excluded by my age, my gender, my race. When I was in high school, eighteen-year-olds couldn’t vote but could be drafted and shipped off to war. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age and passed when I graduated. Two months later I turned eighteen, and two months after that I voted for the first time. A year earlier, I did not have that right.
This month [August] we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment securing my right as a woman to vote. Except - it didn’t protect women of color from voter discrimination. That was forced to wait. Up to the year before I was born, Asian-Americans only had limited citizenship and voting rights, and didn’t have full voting rights until the Voting Rights Act passed when I was twelve.
My late father, a Japanese-American, served as a U.S. military intelligence officer during World War II. When you see the current President signing harmful executive orders, what comes to my mind is the executive order President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed forcing my father’s family and over 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. My father, his brothers and sisters were all American-born and U.S. citizens. But with the stroke of a President’s pen, our entire community was forced out of their homes and into barracks in desolate locations under armed guards. Being an American citizen is supposed to be enough, but it isn’t. During the transport, my grandmother became gravely ill, and the government would not allow her family to be with her. She died alone in a hospital.
All while my father was away fighting for our country, which he loved fiercely, knowing you sometimes have to separate faith in this nation’s ideals from the people elected to govern and represent it. And so fundamental wrongs can get justice, because voters can elect enough fair-minded people into power to get it done. I was thirty-five when the Civil Liberties Act finally passed, officially admitting the internment was a “grave injustice” and a failure of political leadership. Yet recently, Muslim-Americans have been threatened with the same injustices.
These days it takes extra effort to filter out social media propaganda and misleading news desks to get to the facts. But that effort means caring about what’s real and valuing the truth. This is not the year to take voting for granted. Not when voting itself is brazenly threatened to be denied again. Not after people have been fighting long and hard - even dying - so we can have it. “Use it or lose it” and exercise your right to vote. The far-reaching consequences of this year’s election make voting more powerful than ever.”
Rekha Sharma (Ellen Landry, Star Trek: Discovery)
“As a Canadian, I want Americans to vote so badly because I can’t. I am a U.S. resident, and America is an important part of my life. I care about Americans, I care about the country. Things are in a horrible state of affairs. We need every vote we can get to make positive change and to have people in office who will take care of their citizens. As a Canadian, I actually know what that’s like.
In talking to Americans over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of them have been sold a really terrible story about what it is like to live in a country like Canada, which essentially has more of a socialist structure. I know that even that word [socialism] sends a chill down people’s spines, but it's not what they think! I look at it as good parenting. When you’re raised well, you’re given your basic needs so that you can play, and flourish, and study, and do the things that every child loves to do. They can find out who they are and become strong and healthy… mentally, physically, emotionally.
When your basic needs are not met, which I’ve come to see is the case in America in the years that I’ve been living there, it’s hard for people to flourish. Capitalism can create lots of opportunity for growth… but honestly, if you have to worry that getting into a car accident or having a workplace mishap could make you lose your house or not be able to feed your children? Those are basic life needs, and I never worried about any of that stuff until I started living in America. I thought, Wow, this is brutal. We have to change that.
What I’m saying is… if you’ve only had poor parenting, you actually don’t even know what you’re missing. If you’ve only had dysfunctional relationships, you don’t know what love really is. As a Canadian, I want Americans to know that they don’t even know what it’s like to have their basic needs met. As a Canadian, I know that I’m not even at the best level, because Denmark, for instance, is far ahead of us. Look at how New Zealand has COVID totally under control! There are parts of the world where people are much happier, because their government structures support their citizens and their values are not as focused on acquiring wealth and prestige. They are much more concerned about health, family, and the simple nourishing things of life.
I would like to see America be healthier, happier, and a place where its citizens can learn to change their perception of what freedom really is. A revolution of the mind, and the heart, and the soul is needed to truly have freedom. To be free from selfishness, to have the freedom of a childlike heart who yearns for everyone to be safe and loved - that is real freedom. Not this prison of fear and small mindedness we all live in. Now, we all have a long way to go in this endeavor, but we should at least seek leadership that is more loving, because without love? Life is empty, meaningless, cruel and worthless. Actually I think that sums up the current administration pretty nicely.”
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and the official Star Wars website. Jay also serves as a part-time assistant and consultant advising many actors and creatives who work on his favorite sci-fi shows and films. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.