Saturday, October 30, 2004

Please Mr. Postman

A friend recounts her experience with the absentee ballot issue here in South Florida.

The 2004 Presidential Election may, as in the previous election, be decided by the Electoral College and the Supreme Court, but I doubt it will be decided by many voters who happen to be out of state students at US universities and colleges. My daughter, a college freshman and registered Democrat, applied for her absentee ballot in August 2004 before leaving Miami-Dade County, Florida, for school at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She called two weeks ago to inform us that her ballot had not arrived, which prompted a call to our local voter hotline. They informed us absentee ballots were being sent out two weeks prior to the November 2nd Election Day. However, as of October 28, she had not received this ballot. Alarmed that my first time voter would not be able to exercise her rights, I called the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. On Friday morning, October 29, I was informed that an absentee ballot had indeed been sent out to my daughter…on October 25.

Distribution of mail in a timely fashion to the thousands of students on a campus the size of Arizona State is a daunting task on a good day. The fresh baked contents of countless care packages sent from home have grown stale before reaching many a homesick student. So, is it any surprise that a ballot sent out on a Monday would not be in a dorm mailbox three days later?

I expressed my concern to a very courteous Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections supervisor, who told me a new ballot was being sent via FedEx right away. A special RUSH order was being placed on this ballot so that it would arrive the next day in Tempe. My daughter simply had to fill out the ballot and go to a FedEx office to send it back, on that same day, at her expense.

I must say that whoever devised this scheme to intimidate college students out of their right to vote must have teenaged children. Only someone with the experience of hearing the phrase: “Oh I can’t do THAT, Mom, I’m too busy! I have too much WORK! No TIME!” on a regular basis would be able to come up with a sure fire plan to have less registered students vote. Only someone with college-aged daughters would know that precious cash is normally used for personal care products or entertainment rather than double digit rush FedEx costs. But my daughter knows that in terms of time, this was the equivalent of taking time out on Nov. 2 to add her say to the popular vote. I urged her to tell her friends, especially those from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida to persevere and send in their absentee ballots no matter how late they arrive.

My daughter prevailed. She received her absentee ballot on Saturday morning and promptly filled it out and returned it, via FedEx, to the Supervisor of Elections. The package should arrive in Miami on Monday where her popular vote will be counted. I may be mistaken, but I believe absentee ballots are counted only in the event of a toss-up between the two candidates. In the case of Florida, her ballot will be important to the outcome of the election. That is, until the Electoral College and the Supreme Court decisions kick into gear. As in 2000, that is when the popular vote truly becomes absent.

I think my friend is mistaken; absentee ballots are counted regardless of the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, it’s a timely lesson in how important it is to ensure that your vote counts. Just ask President Gore.