By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

What does voting mean to you? Is it a hard-earned right? A civic duty? A menacing chore? Barely on your mind? A privilege? After casting my vote in this year’s Presidential election, it became clear to me what voting means to me – especially after I haven’t been able to vote in a general, parliamentary, presidential election since moving to the US. This is the story of my vote.

I could tell I got emotional when the poll workers all cheered for me for being a first-time voter. And when I was giving off my ballot to be scanned, and a woman handed me my ‘I’m a Georgia Voter’ sticker, the tears were definitely pressing. Thank the gods for masks so that they couldn’t see my emotional state all over my face, right? But this was the first time in over ten years that I voted in a general and presidential election, so yeah, this was a massive deal to me.

They say you don’t know what you got until it’s gone, and when it comes to voting, that holds very true to me. I’m originally from Denmark, and when I moved to Atlanta in 2012, I knew that when I gave up my residency in Denmark, I also gave up my right to vote in any Danish election.  And because I was a Danish citizen living in the US, I couldn’t vote in any elections stateside. In fact, I wasn’t even recognized as a resident in the US, but as a tourist because of my visa status, even though I came with my husband to whom I was legally married (in Denmark). After a lengthy process to obtain my own visa so I could work and live in the US, the Defense of Marriage Act (section 3) was repealed in 2013, which at the time didn’t legalize gay marriage but recognized the legality of my marriage under Danish law. That paved the way for me to get a green card sponsored through my marriage because I was now recognized as a lawful spouse to my husband, who already had a green card.

Green card but still no elections. It was difficult not to be able to participate in a democratic process in local elections, and it was heartbreaking not to be able to cast a vote in the 2016 election that had such a devastating (for me) outcome. It was around that time that I started thinking about a path to citizenship, so I could fully participate in a democratic process again.

A deadline for even applying for citizenship is having a green card for five years, and that deadline was reached for me in 2019. Under the counsel of an immigration lawyer, the application was started, and right before COVID shut the country down, I went to my biometrics appointment, where the immigration authorities take your fingerprints for your official documents. At that point, it was simply a waiting game while you were being vetted, and the lawyer warned that the process could be delayed because of the pandemic that was only gaining in strength at the time.

Then, things suddenly went fast! I received a letter for my final naturalization scheduled for early September. I went and passed. Then, my inauguration was less than three weeks later although I was told it would be delayed due to COVID. I went to get sworn in as a citizen (alone because of the pandemic), and I received my citizenship certificate along with information and form to register to vote.

Within days I submitted my registration, but I was a little concerned whether or not it would reach the voter registration office, so after about two weeks, I went in person to the elections office. That turned out to be a great idea because my mailed registration had apparently been lost in the mail. I registered in person again and then spent the next couple of weeks checking my voter registration page daily.

When it finally went through and my newly won citizenship was verified, I chose a pretty ordinary Tuesday in October to go and vote early for the first time in over a decade. And in that moment, my journey to win the right to vote felt very clear to me. So when the poll workers cheered, and my ballot was accepted, yes, I got emotional. My right, my vote.