Today is a big day for Ohio. It’s the day that we as voters actually matter. It is primary election day. For some reason that I’ve never really understood, Ohio is a hugely important state in national elections. Maybe it just boils down to electoral votes and delegates, maybe it’s something else, but either way, voting here is always important. In a state that never consistently goes red or blue, every vote matters, so I went to cast mine today.

I wanted to have a voice, to take the time to say “This is who I believe would lead and represent the country/county/area well, and they support the things I believe in.” However, saying that is not always easy, especially in the part of Ohio I grew up in and currently reside in. I live just north of Cincinnati. Until the past two presidential election cycles, all of the counties in the area went red. About as bright red as they could get. When Obama first won in 2008, that was the first time in my life I had ever seen Hamilton County (the county that contains Cincinnati) go blue. Every other county was still bright red, however. I live in prime, gun-loving, pro-life, pro-god-in-schools, anti-gay, anti-anybody-who-isn’t-a-white-Christian territory. I’ve watched Bernie Sanders signs be placed on street corners at intersections, only to be defaced, damaged, or removed and replaced by Trump signs within a matter of days. If you are liberal-leaning in this part of Ohio, it’s often not worth the effort or risk advertising it.

Given the area I live in, and given recent events that unfolded in the past few days as Trump made appearances very near me in West Chester, and not too far away in Dayton, I went to the polls a little apprehensively. When I went to vote, I was asked for my ID (problematic in itself. See this John Oliver video for more- LINK), asked to verify my name and address, then I was asked which ballot I wanted to receive: republican or democrat. I stood at the table, and before I muttered my answer, for the first time in my life I was actually afraid to cast my vote for a non-republican party. I became very aware of the two older white men glaring at me as they waited for their voting cards, after they heard me respond with “Democrat, please.” I became very aware that Ohio is a state that allows concealed carry, and that many people in this area support and take advantage of that law. As I went to vote today, I was reminded of all of the things that were done by generations past to ensure that I could even go vote in the first place, and I was also reminded of all of things that are being done to people who don’t agree with the hateful rhetoric being touted by a certain candidate. After voting I spoke of my unease with a relative of mine, who is rebellious in that she dares to be a female democrat in the heart of the south. She told me that I was not alone in my fear and anxiety, that she was also afraid to show support for either democratic candidate because she feared the repercussions. She was afraid her car would be vandalized, or worse, that she would be shot for simply displaying signs or putting a sticker on the bumper of her car.

The only time that I ever feel patriotic is when I go and vote. I’m not sure that the same can be said for me today. Instead of feeling pride in trying to make my voice heard, I felt something much different. I felt ashamed that this process has become such a circus, and a second-rate one at that. I’m ashamed that while my voice and my vote might go the opposite way, the image that this country is projecting internationally is one of hatred and intolerance. Today, I voted, and today, I felt ashamed that I was afraid to be heard.