Submitted by Kammi Foote, Inyo County Registrar of Voters
INDEPENDENCE, CA – Every year hundreds of thousands of people embark on extended hiking expeditions; consequently they are often in the wilderness during election season. Long distance hikers, called “thru-hikers”, travel on the popular Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and among Inyo County California treasures’ – the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and John Muir Trail (JMT).
Crossing paths with long-distance hikers is common in Inyo County, home to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the Continental US at 14,505’ and Kearsarge Pass, a popular route for hiker re-supply on the PCT and JMT.
Most long distance hikers began their expeditions early in 2016 – before the primaries and conventions, spending months in the back-country. Consequently, thru-hikers are less likely to be up to date on state elections, voter registration requirements and vote by mail deadlines.
During a recent Inyo County voter registration drive at the Bishop Twin Theatre, thru-hikers and rock-climbers stopped by and asked basic questions about voting while away from home. Realizing that there is sparse election information directed to thru-hikers, Chuck Levin, friend and longtime voting advocate and I decided to hike into the John Muir Wilderness to spread the word about voting in this important national election.
The National Park Service and US Forest service provided information that was helpful when developing our idea. We wanted to raise awareness but, as avid hikers, did not want to disrupt anyone’s wilderness journey. The first step was designing bold t-shirts inviting hikers to approach us. Our t-shirts read: “Thru-hiking? Ask me about voting” and “A great place to register to vote!”.
Next we stocked up on organic fruit generously donated by the Owens Valley Growers Cooperative, a local market and supporter of the Sierra hiking community, so we could also serve as trail angels.
Chuck and I met in Independence, at the Inyo County Courthouse on Saturday August 20th at 8:00 a.m., joined by my husband Greg – photographer and veteran hiker.
We set out on our “wilderness civics effort” and in two days we hiked above 11,000’ on the Kearsarge Pass Trail, encountered 124 hikers, had conversations with 51 people, shuttled two backpackers from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine and helped citizens register to vote; including a first time voter from Orange County, California and a climber from Memphis, Tennessee.
It’s our view that everyone be encouraged to take advantage of their rights as voters, and embrace their civic responsibility…even when they are on amazing adventures in the remote wilderness.
Election Info – Registration and Voting
Voter registration deadlines vary by state. Thru-hikers should determine the deadlines for the state where they intend to vote.
Currently California, along with 30 other states, plus the District of Columbia, offers online voter registration. In addition, Federal Voter Registration forms can be downloaded at public libraries on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website: www.eac.gov
Also, thru-hikers away from home on Election Day, November 8th, may request an absentee ballot from their local elections office to vote by mail.
Hikers and adventurers should know that if they are moving or between permanent residences they may legally register to vote in any state. However, some states have residency requirements, such as living in the state for 30 days. Many states, including California, have no residency minimum.
Google’s new voter tools
This year it is simpler than ever to find specific information about voting using Google’s new search tools “Register to Vote” and “How to Vote”. Google these terms, locate your local elections office and learn the voting process in your state.
Note to Adventurers
Our political system relies on your participation. So when you are off trail re-supplying, ending your hike or planning for a future adventure, please take advantage of your right and privileges as a citizen. Just like your wilderness expedition, a little planning, will allow you to register and to vote so you don’t miss the election.
At the end of our own two-day adventure, Chuck remarked that “We were able to talk with residents of Inyo County, people from California and around the USA and it was very rewarding to discover that every hiker appreciated our effort.”
A noble effort. But considering the tone of this year’s election, being off the grid and out of touch doesn’t sound bad at all.