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When Bad Things Happen to Good Voters

When Bad Things Happen to Good Voters - A Tale of Two Students

By Joan Brunwasser,OpEdNews
October 30, 2008

Early voting is well under way and turnout is heavy. The Chicago Tribune predicts that almost 800,000 of my fellow Illinoisans will have voted by 7:00 tonight when early voting ends. VotersUnite! Executive Director John Gideon puts out Daily Voting News year-round. In recent days, there is so much going on, he has ramped it up to twice-daily news bulletins. Let's look at how voting is going for two young voters.

Sarah from New Orleans

Sarah Woodward is "an undergraduate from New Orleans, studying at Stanford University. This is my first presidential election."

Here is her story. I thought you'd be interested in this bit of news...

Yesterday [Tuesday] I received my absentee ballot from Louisiana and guess what was missing? The presidential ballot. Outraged, I went down to dinner and began speaking to other students and I would say about 5 out of 10 people I talked to said they'd had an issue with absentee ballots as well. Some hadn't received their ballots yet and others also had materials missing, though I was the only one who was missing the presidential ballot. It seems that this is a system-wide deficiency and though I'd always heard that our voting system was flawed, I'd never experienced it first-hand. This morning I called the Registrar of Voters in New Orleans and their solution is that I have to find a fax machine so that they can send me my ballot, then I have to fax my ballot back to them waiving my right to secrecy ... But what choice do I have? I can vote, or I can not vote. I then called my mom, a lawyer, and she has already called the local newspaper, the Obama campaign, and the Registrar of Voters to let them know that she is planning to file a class action suit on voting rights against the state of Louisiana with me as a principal plaintiff.

Anyway, I thought you'd like that, given our country's practice of invading other countries in the name of democracy.
Last night, I received this: The update is that after my mom spent the day on the phone with the Registrar of Voters and the Secretary of State's office, we have received assurances from many people who are (very very very) sorry that this happened (and probably very very very afraid of my mom). The Registrar is sending me a ballot overnight with a prepaid express envelope included. But who knows how many others this has happened to who do not have mothers who are lawyers! Please post this. I want to get the word out. Sarah will keep us apprised, but she looks to be in pretty good shape, with her lawyer mother and the threat of a class action suit to back her up.

Ariella in Boston

My daughter, Ariella, is in Boston for graduate school. Quite a while ago, she applied for an absentee ballot. It finally arrived on Saturday, missing its security sleeve. She was fuming! We had no idea if her ballot was still kosher. I gave Ariella the Election Protection hotline [1-866-OUR-VOTE] as well as the phone number of the Cook County Clerk's office. She promptly called and left messages. So did I. If she had been at the polls, she would have been out of luck. Few of us have the "luxury" to wait for hours until someone can return our call. So, it's not hard to predict total chaos next Tuesday.

The volunteer from Election Protection [EP] I finally connected with looked up Illinois Election Code (Section 19-6). Ariella needed to certify the outside of the official return envelope, fold the ballot as instructed, and pop it in the mail. The County Clerk's office told Ariella to use a plain white envelope in lieu of the missing sleeve and to send everything back in the proper return envelope. EP advised that Ariella's ballot must be post-marked by November 3, which actually means the ballot would arrive several days after the election. I recommended a quick trip to the post office and extra postage to ensure that the ballot arrives in Chicago by today [Thursday], or Friday, at the latest. We have heard too many stories about absentee ballots that don't ever get counted. Tonight she emailed me: "I mailed my absentee ballot on Tuesday in the pouring rain. It reminded me of No Umbrella*. It should get there today or tomorrow."

Both Ariella and Sarah's voting problems –and their solutions – transpired outside the polling place. But as voters flock to the polls in record numbers, what should they do if they run into problems?

Potential Problems at the Polls

Election Defense Alliance and Illinois Ballot Integrity Project recommend voting on Election Day, in your precinct, and requesting a paper ballot if at all possible, in order to make your vote more secure. OpEdNews, Snopes, Voters Unite, and various other sources strongly recommend avoiding Straight-Ticket Voting, because of the likelihood that part or all of your ballot will be lost. The presidential race is particularly at risk. Daily Voting News is full of reports of this happening; millions of voters in 15 states are at risk.

Emily Levy of Velvet Revolution, Ellen Theisen of VotersUnite! and the folks at put together great suggestions on what to do if you run into trouble with a machine that flips your vote or otherwise malfunctions.

Follow These Steps

* Get the machine's serial number, if possible
* Call over a poll supervisor to observe the problem
* Insist on filling out a problem report
* Refuse to vote on that machine
* Request that the machine be taken out of service and impounded for later forensic examination
* Tell all the voters waiting in line exactly which machine flipped your vote (third machine from the left, or whatever)
* Report the problem via election integrity hotlines, twitter, and the voter suppression wiki. Information on how to do that is here.
* Call the county, city, and state election offices and report the problem
* Find those phone numbers here. Call reporters and tell them about the problem

Brad Friedman adds: Please bring a video camera/cell phone camera when you go to vote so you can document these problems on video tape, and then upload them to VideoTheVote and YouTube!

Supposedly, the Dems have hundreds of lawyers on call for Election Day. Maybe so. But there are thousands of polling places and plenty of problems to keep them working overtime. Don't count on guys in white hats swooping in to save you; be prepared to take steps to safeguard your vote. In this case, forewarned is forearmed.

Ten-second Take-Away

Prepare a little Election Day kit to take with you to the polls. Anticipate a long wait. If you get in and out quickly with no problem, consider it an unexpected bonus. Along with your sandwich, bottle of water, and a snack or two, don't forget to bring the hotline numbers, your fully charged cell phone, a camera, and a pencil and paper to note the time and serial number of the problematic machine. Be polite but firm. We can't afford a rerun of 2000 or 2004. Our vote is our voice. Let yourself be heard!

*Note: Ariella was referring to No Umbrella, Laura Paglin's documentary of inner-city minority voters of Ohio, standing endlessly in the rain, determined to vote in the 2004 election.



Authors Bio: Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which exists for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. We aim to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Electronic (computerized) voting systems are simply antithetical to democratic principles.

CER set up a lending library to achieve the widespread distribution of the DVD Invisible Ballots: A temptation for electronic vote fraud. Within eighteen months, the project had distributed over 3200 copies across the country and beyond. CER now concentrates on group showings, OpEd pieces, articles, reviews, interviews, discussion sessions, networking, conferences, anything that promotes awareness of this critical problem. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005.

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