Thursday, June 4, 2020

Stay In! And Vote by Mail....Or Not

by Peggy Robin

Well, friends, I did what voters were advised to do during a pandemic: I voted by absentee ballot. But now I wish I hadn’t.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy not to have been among the voters queued up to vote at one of the voting centers on primary election day on Tuesday. I saw the news photos the next day of voters in two-and-three hour lines. Or worse. That wouldn’t be the way I’d want to exercise my franchise. I suppose with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight (or call it 6/2/2020 hindsight), I would have gone to an early voting center and cast my vote in person. I understand that social distancing was well maintained. The process was smooth and people got their “I voted” stickers – and here’s the important part – they also were handed a receipt proving that their ballot was cast.

That’s what I did NOT get.

Here’s how it went: Almost as soon as DC voting officials and get-out-the-vote volunteers starting urging voters to vote by mail (as in this CP Listserv message #157141, posted on April 24), I sent in my absentee ballot request. I received it in the mail in a timely way. I carefully followed the instructions to mark my ballot, place it in the inner privacy envelope, sign and date where required on the outer envelope, and mail it back by the June 2, 2020 deadline.

On May 22, 2020, I walked the ballot down to the Cleveland Park Post Office and put it in the outside mailbox at the curb in time for the 5:00 PM mail pickup.

I considered going inside to have it officially received by a clerk and get a tracking receipt – but on principle that voting should be free, I decided against it, to avoid the tracking fee.

Now here’s the problem. When I go to the DC Board of Elections ballot tracking webpage at, I can find my ballot without trouble, and I can see what date it was mailed out – but in the “Date Received” box, where it should say when they logged my ballot in so that it could be counted… says “Not Available.” And it’s now two days AFTER the election.

Not that anything crucial is hanging on my vote in this primary...but still, I voted, damn it! I have the “I voted” sticker that was included along with the absentee ballot and the instruction sheet. Still, I have no assurance that anyone down at BOE knows I voted.

May 22 is far enough away from June 2 for one to reasonably assume the thing would have made it through the US Mail and into the DC BOE system…..yet here I am, wondering if my vote has been counted – or whether it will ever be counted.

That’s not a worry any voter is supposed to have in a functioning democracy.

So what’s the take-away here? Is it, Door #1: We don’t really have a fully functioning democracy right now, due to a worldwide pandemic and nationwide social upheaval. Or Door #2: Well, large bureaucracies mess things up sometimes. It’s a glitch, that’s all.

Whether it’s #1 (very serious problem) or #2 (not so serious --a one-off problem), I know what I will do next time around…. and it’s not going to be a mail-in vote. Come November, I’ll opt for the early in-person voting. That way, I can watch as my voted ballot slips out of the privacy sleeve directly into the locked ballot box. A friendly, independent poll worker will observe my action to be sure I have put in my ballot the right way. When I am done, the poll worker will hand me my “I voted” sticker and a receipt, showing that my ballot was number XXXX received at that polling place.

Still, I worry that other voters may lose confidence in the system and take Door #3 – the just-sit-at-home-and-don’t-bother-to-vote option.

Former Absentee Voter

The "Stay In!" column (formerly the "Get Out!" events column) is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.

No comments:

Post a Comment