Disenfranchisement in the Age of the Internet

Many moons ago, driven by crushing career boredom, I taught myself basic computer and database programming. Even with my limited skills, I’m 100% confident I could build a database that would collect a person’s name and address, match those data against a voter registration database and allow absentee internet voting while prohibiting people from voting more than once. Such a database might take a couple of afternoons to build.

Instead of that simple process, or any other simple process, we’re confronted with the following when trying to make sure we can vote from the road:

  1. Request an absentee ballot application (not a ballot, but an application for a ballot) by mail.
  2. Make sure the application, that looks remarkably similar to an IRS Form 1040, is filled out perfectly. “Each year a number of applications are returned due to errors or omissions.”
  3. Mail your application to the Early Voting Clerk. “Applications mailed to a different address will be rejected.”
  4. Applications received before or after the 53 day window from September 7, 2012 through October 30, 2012 will be rejected.
  5. Find somewhere other than your permanent address to have the actual ballot mailed. “Your ballot must be mailed to an address outside the county.” If you’re like most people who only have one address in the county where you vote, tough titties. If the reason you’re requesting an absentee ballot is because you’re traveling and don’t plan to spend two months waiting at a single out-of-county address for your ballot to arrive, tough titties.
  6. Hope your absentee ballot finds you at your out-of-county location before election day
  7. Sign the ballot exactly as it appears on your application. Signatures that don’t appear to match will cause the ballot to be rejected.
  8. Mail the form back and hope your vote is counted by people clearly more interested in rejecting your ballot than counting it.

This isn’t just needlessly complicated. It seems deliberately complicated, as if the intention isn’t to weed out fraudulent votes but to make voting remotely as difficult and as infrequent as possible. It’s hard to understand what other reason could be given for a policy of rejecting ballot applications simply because they were mailed to the wrong state office address. Have they never heard of interoffice mail forwarding?

We’re not exactly sure what long-term travelers like us did to either political party to have our votes suppressed in this way, but we’re now more committed then ever to make sure our votes are counted; even if that means driving back and casting a ballot old-school style.

Now we just need to figure out if anyone responsible for this nonsense is up for re-election.

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19 Comments on “Disenfranchisement in the Age of the Internet”

  1. dannybreslin September 24, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Ah the joy of bureaucracy. I used to work for the British government so I know what it’s like: “Why use one form when three will do?” The world is strangling itself with red tape.
    Fear not my friend, it no longer matters that much who you vote for, they’re both whores for the same corporate pimps.

    Like

  2. digger666 September 24, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Your experience brings shame upon us all for tolerating this state of affairs. There are arguments to be had about why this happens, and although not unique, thankfully your experiences are also not universal. Having spent more than half my life living abroad, my current registration is based upon a brief (less than seven months) residence in Albuquerque in 2003.

    Contacts within the Democratic Party recently tried to verify my registration, and were unable to do so. A quick phone call to the County Clerk’s Office confirmed my registration to be current, but not my absentee ballot request. Within three weeks all documentation has been completed and I was able to submit my absentee ballot yesterday via e-mail, receiving verification of it’s receipt within seconds.

    Meanwhile I am booked for voter registration work tomorrow at Canary Wharf, as there remains ample time for people to begin the process if they move quickly. Any expats uncertain of their registration or absentee ballot status should contact https://www.votefromabroad.org/ for further assistance.

    Meanwhile, hang in there in your struggle to vote. You sound as though you’ve been paying attention to what is developing into the most crucial election for decades.

    Like

  3. Pit September 24, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    That reminds me of a song making fun of the German bureaucracy, which had one line, recurring over and over, that you need to “file for an application for an application for an application form”. And we had a cartoon on tv once, where 7 people were sitting at a desk, the first one stamping a form, handing it to the second, who stamped it and handed it to the third, and so on, till the last one stamped it and threw it into the waste paper basket.
    So, our German bureaucracy can certainly compete with the American one. 😉
    Best regards from southern Texas,
    Pit

    Like

  4. Kyle September 24, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I shared this on Facebook. One sure has to wonder what advantage there is in restricting voter turnout.

    Like

    • Brian September 24, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks for the share!! As to the advantage, I have no wonder. When you treat democracy as a game where the only objective is winning, then you gain tremendous advantage by restricting the vote of your opponent’s side. What I wonder is whose “side” they think absentee voters as a group are on.

      Like

  5. Angelia Sims September 24, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    What a pain. It’s sad what people go through that WANT to vote, but those who can easily vote, don’t. Crazy.

    Like

  6. Emily September 24, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Hmmmm…we are expats currently living in Belize and were able to request an absentee ballot via email. We did have to mail in a signed copy to our local board of elections in Orange County, North Carolina, in addition to the copy we emailed them. We have already received our absentee ballot — also via email. We can return our signed ballot either by mail or scanned and then faxed or emailed. We followed the instructions on the http://www.fvap.gov/ site and went from there. Not nearly as complicated as what you outlined above. I am not sure why the discrepancy, but don’t let the inconvenience keep you from voting, please!

    Like

    • Brian September 24, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Emily,
      The discrepancy is related to the fact that voting from outside the country is governed by Federal law and voting from within the 50 states is governed by state law. Maybe we need to schedule a trip outside the country so we can vote more easily. 🙂

      Like

      • Sam B September 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

        I just went through this as I happened to be passing through my “home town”, between overseas trips. I was told that I would be contacted via email and could cast my ballot electronically! We shall see. Disenfranchisement is right. Frustrating.

        Like

      • Emily September 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

        Aha! I see — I didn’t realize the difference. I guess it’s similar to how easy our federal tax return is compared to the state.

        Like

  7. Gunta September 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Voter suppression seems to be on the rise. Have seen clips of PA’s gov. claiming that the new voter ID requirements would insure a win for Romney… makes sense since folks in cities who don’t own cars probably wouldn’t vote for him.

    Like

  8. jcvert1982 September 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Exactly!

    Like

  9. denisediscovers September 25, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    I’m just staggered by this. I have worked as an election official several times here in New Zealand. What happens is that a few weeks before election day, every registered voter gets a card with their details on it. If they cast a vote in their own electorate, the process is very straightforward, but even if they are at the other end of the country, they can take their card to ANY polling place and cast a special vote. This requires a bit of form filling and signing, but it’s not difficult. Same if you’re going to be out of the country, you can cast a special vote before you go, or at an embassy, or download the voting papers from the internet. It’s hard to believe that the US can’t do this.

    Like

  10. citizen111 September 26, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Funny how banks can tell exactly who you are, how much you have and what the exchange rate is, all in seconds. So it’s as you say, deliberate?

    Like

  11. nora September 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I just got back from Portugal where 1) we had to deal with this new & bizarre electronic tolls on some of the roads that require things like going to the post office to pay “after two days, but no more than five days” of incurring the toll, and 2) my father-in-law is dealing with some very bizarre and idiotic beaurocracy around a car (that belonged to his father ages ago) that was sold years ago.

    I didn’t think it could get worse. But no, this is definitely worse.

    Like

  12. R Bunge September 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    In South Dakota you just send in a form with your SD address and where you want the ballet sent and sign it along with a copy of your drivers lic. That’s it. I can’t help it you domicile in TX

    Like

  13. hermitsdoor October 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    My theory is the political parties only want the sure votes, so anything slightly questionable should be discouraged. On the other hand, I also wonder how many travelers would expend the energy that you appear to want to invest in voting. “I’m on vacation” mentality. Then, again, as the majority of citizens do not vote to begin with, for many reasons, those politicians are probably eyeing you cautiously. Maybe this just sounds like a conspiracy theory 🙂
    Oscar

    Like

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