Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Let the voting begin

So here we go! Robert and I ended up at ground zero of early voting today, since we pulled into the SOE’s [Supervisor of Elections] Office bright and early just as the doors opened. We got to see Kerry’s airplane on the tarmac on the way over, and we swung back around after picking up a camera at Walgreen’s. Silly, but we can’t help ourselves.

Despite the fact that already several problems have emerged here, I find myself feeling upbeat about this election and especially about being here. One of the county early locations had computer problems, which only added to the problem of a long line and slow voting—there were only six machines. It is difficult for us to push early voting when LePore is not willing to respond to the demand. More troubling to me are the absentee ballots. A volunteer who was returning requests that he’d went and gotten signatures for was told that it was unlikely they’d get ballots. It’s as if LePore can just decide that she doesn’t have to do her job for whatever reason she likes. Maybe she’ll decide to go on vacation and cancel the entire election. It’s unbelievable to me how difficult this county makes voting. Here are some of the more perturbing things I’ve discovered about absentee voting:

1) As detailed above, the ballots aren’t mailed out early enough, or quickly enough after requests are received.

2) They cost 83 cents to return, which means a trip to the post office for exact postage, or 3 first class stamps (wasting 28 cents). You can also turn bring them to one of the Supervisor’s offices, and we are collecting them at our office as well. But the Dems are so freaked that we haven’t delivered them yet, since there is some worry that the Republicans will try to use some wording on the state website to try to claim that they cannot be delivered by a third party, even though the SOE accepts them this way without question. The law is clear that anyone can deliver them (they are sealed, after all), but after 2000, the paranoia is palpable. But the point I want to make here is that our absentee ballots cost one stamp. They are 5 by 8.5 inch envelopes, whereas the Florida ones are those big manila envelope size, since they contain a secrecy envelope with the ballot inside the outside envelope that identifies the voter. We had 20 initiatives on the ballot, but they still managed to fit them on one piece of card stock that folded into its envelope. Florida does a bilingual ballot, but it still seems to me they didn’t try hard enough….

3) They tell you to fill it out in pencil, or “with the implement provided,” which is never provided, whatever it is. Now I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit well with me.

4) It’s the craziest optical scan system I’ve ever seen. Instead of filling in bubbles like on standardized tests, the ballot has a series of broken arrows next to each candidate or yes/no initiative. To vote, you are supposed to complete the arrow by making a line in the space between the two broken pieces. Can anyone say confusing? I learned about this today because a guy called our office confused about it. I could see why. Everyone is nervous about screwing this up. We know how much is riding on the outcome.

5) There are no ballot stubs. Now this is just plain idiotic. Every absentee ballot I have ever used has had a part you tear off to keep as proof you voted. This county has nothing.

After 2000, I knew that the problems in this county were real. However, being here has brought the difference between places like Alameda County and Palm Beach County home to me in a way that reading about it could never have done. It is the ultimate irony to me that the Supreme Court pretended to make a decision about equal protection in 2000 when voting procedures across the nation are so disparate and so obviously inferior in many places. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to register voters and hold elections. If one county in one state can do it, why can’t all of them? After all, if we can’t manage to have free and fair elections, our country is history. I predict a revolution if as many people are in effect disenfranchised in this election as were in 2000. I’m ready to go to the streets if Bush is re-selected….


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