After not getting her mail-in Florida ballot for weeks, first-year Johns Hopkins University medical student Kaela Bynoe didn’t think she was going to get it in time.
She had checked the mail every day after she requested the ballot in early October. A friend, also from Florida, had requested his ballot several days after she did, but had gotten his already. She held out hope that it would come.
But by Friday night, she knew she couldn’t wait anymore. She hadn’t gotten her ballot for the 2018 midterm election or primary elections this year, either.
So she flew to Florida with swim goggles and a mask Sunday morning, voted and came back to Baltimore in eight hours, round-trip.
“I decided I have to vote. I’m just going to go down to Florida and do it,” Bynoe said. “I don’t trust them to send me my ballot in time.”
A backer of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primaries, Bynoe has turned her support to the party’s nominee, Joe Biden. Between Biden and Republican President Donald Trump, the former was the clear choice for her.
“President Trump has completely bungled the response to the coronavirus pandemic and his response to the protests against racial injustice and police brutality,” Bynoe said. “We need a president who puts American lives before his own ego and listens to science and data, doesn’t continuously lie and shows common decency. Biden does that much better than President Trump.”
The journey to cast her ballot was quick but not exactly easy. Bynoe woke up at 5 a.m. Sunday and brought a backpack filled with medical school study materials to the airport. She got on a 7:25 flight, for which she wore swim goggles in addition to a mask and latex gloves, as the coronavirus can be transmitted through the eyes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’m a med school student. By design I am also a hypochondriac," Bynoe said, laughing.
With an exam Thursday, she tried to study on the flight, but she took the goggles off at times because they kept fogging up. She had originally planned to drive to Florida, but her schedule did not allow her to do so. She said the journey cut into her studying a bit.
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“It was totally worth it. This election is too important,” Bynoe said. “If I don’t do as well on my exam as I hope, it’s a small price to pay.”
When she landed around 10 a.m., she took an Uber to the nearest polling place, where it took about a half-hour to vote. Due to rain, lines were shorter than they otherwise would have been. She took an Uber to get food before taking another to the airport for a 1:10 p.m. flight back to Baltimore.
She chose not to vote in Maryland due to Florida’s status as a swing state that could make its results crucial to determining the next president.
"I believe every vote counts, but in Florida, my vote is more important and better served than here,” she said.
The last-minute flight purchase cost her $600, she said. After her story has gone viral, she has received many “really generous donations” on Venmo from people she doesn’t know trying to cover the cost of her ticket.
“While I am so thankful that people find the story inspiring and they’re willing to cover my plane ticket cost," she said, "I don’t need the money and I would love if they would pay it forward or donate to charities that fight voter suppression.”