Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images
Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images

Mollie said she’s pulling the lever on Tuesday for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because that’s the ticket more likely to move the country in the right direction. 

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns have reminded voters that there is a lot more on the ballot this year than a simple choice between the two candidates. 

In fact, many pressing issues facing voters in the United States have directly affected citizens long before the 2020 election cycle. Take the opioid crisis, for instance. Some preliminary data indicates that drug overdoses increased in 2019, while systemic problems like a lack of adequate public mental health and treatment resources, as well as chronic overprescribing of opioid drugs, persist. 

Voters watching the first presidential debate got a visceral reminder of this when the former vice president responded to Trump’s attack on his son’s drug use: “He’s overtaking it,” Biden said. “He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”

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The moment resonated with Mollie, a 32-year-old woman who lives in Ohio and asked that her last name be excluded from this story for privacy concerns.

In college, Mollie studied gender studies and political science, and interned in local government. But her experience with drug addiction and both sides of the criminal justice system made the issues she had studied and understood on a theoretical level more tangible. 

Mollie told COURIER her addiction reached its worst levels after college, culminating in a third arrest, this time for felony charges. But she was lucky. She got a good lawyer through her dad, who’s a mechanic and had worked on the lawyer’s car in the past. Instead of spending six months in jail, Mollie was sent to a drug diversion program, which required two years of probation, alongside random drug tests, meetings, and treatment, after which her felony charges would be sealed.

In Ohio, people convicted of felonies may have their records sealed, though not expunged. Ohio is also one of the few states that automatically restores the right to vote to people convicted of felonies after they’ve been released. Had Mollie been convicted in another state, she might not have been allowed to participate in this election at all. 

She is also keenly aware that as a relatively well-off white woman, she was afforded privileges people of color and other disenfranchised groups never would be.

“It always really bothered me,” Mollie explained. “I graduated and I’ve been in school for all this social justice stuff, and here I am, this white kid from suburbia basically getting a chance to have my felony charges sealed … And I’m just, like, riding this wave of privilege.”

Going through the justice system herself gave Mollie a more textured view of the realities she’d learned about in school—that she emerged relatively unscathed due to an accident of birth. “The drugs problem only becomes a problem or a health concern or a public health crisis when it’s white people that are dying from it,” she said. “Like, they could have had these diversion programs years ago, and they could have had them for everybody. But the criminal justice system doesn’t care.”

Mollie said the woman who ran her drug program, a Black woman, was the most “amazing woman I’ve ever met,” and they both recognized the privilege at work, but felt they could only do so much. “She was just doing what she could to help people stop dying from overdosing and dying from opioids. The fact that it was mostly white kids that she was helping was not lost on her, but also, she didn’t really have an answer,” Mollie said. “The criminal justice system is set up for people with privilege, with money, with connections.”  

Mollie works as an office manager now, and views systemic problems in the United States—from institutional racism to limiting access to reproductive care to corrupt lobbyists—as too deeply ingrained and interconnected to be solved by a single election. But she said she’s pulling the lever on Tuesday for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because that’s the ticket more likely to move the country in the right direction. 

She also emphasized the importance of local representatives and ballot initiatives. This election, there are two initiatives she’s excited to vote for. 

“So, there’s a Franklin County alcohol, drug, and mental health tax renewal increase,” she said, referencing a proposed renewal and expansion of the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Board’s $2.2. million levy, which reportedly has not been increased in 15 years. “No. 2 is for a Civilian Police Review Board and Inspector General, which would add an amendment to the state constitution.” If passed, this measure would grant the new review board the authority to launch and carry out investigations of alleged police misconduct, make recommendations, and appoint and manage the new position of Inspector General for the Division of Police. 

Mollie believes passionately that politics doesn’t end with elections. After all, how would the proposed civilian review board get on the ballot in the first place if people hadn’t spent all summer canvassing for it?

“What I find so frustrating about all of this is that it’s all connected … Every last bit of it from student debt to the people going bankrupt through the healthcare system through the opioid epidemic and drug addiction in general. All of this has this common thread of the fact that you’re consistently exploited on many different levels, and we don’t have any control over it.”

That said, Mollie still has hope. 

“Although there have been many cases where we have taken steps backwards, time and history has shown us that we’re constantly moving forward, we’re constantly getting more progressive, and more inclusive, more empathetic. Because the world is getting smaller.”

READ MORE: Trump Insulted Biden’s Son for Drug Addiction, But Overdose Deaths Have Increased During His Presidency.