Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fighting for the Right to Vote

Well well. Hank Stuever at the Washington Post has really put his foot in it. He opposes voting early. He is apparently one of those lucky elitists that doesn't have to worry about taking off work to stand in long lines to vote. I have voted every election I've been able to, but there was an election when I couldn't vote because the employer didn't let me take time off work to do it. We were directed to vote before or after work, and don't be late. I couldn't vote before work because the commute and the lines at the poll were too long. I couldn't vote after work because I got to my polling place 5-10 minutes after the polls closed. While my polling place is conveniently near my home, it is not conveniently near my place of work.

(There didn't used to be adequate parking at my polling place either, but that issue was fixed this year. We got parking reasonably close and didn't have to cross a busy street/minor highway on foot to reach the polling place.)

I voted Yes on Maryland's proposal to allow early voting and to expand the locations for voting. I'm not quite sure about how the location thing works, but I'll say yes to anything that makes it easier to vote. More locations and more days on which to cast ballots is a big YES to me. For years pundits have been bemoaning the low voter turnout. Did it ever occur to them that more people would vote if they could?

I was lucky this year -- my day off just happened to coincide with election day. I was able to stroll in at a low volume hour and spend ten minutes and be done. My son, however, was not so lucky. He recently turned eighteen. He's also autistic, and being able to vote is a huge milestone in anybody's life. We tried to register him to vote at the same time we got his learner's permit, at the Motor Vehicle Administration. We never got any paperwork confirming it, so we went to the election board in person and asked them. They looked him up, said he wasn't registered, and that all MVA voter registration applications had been processed. He then registered to vote right there in the election board office and showed the necessary ID: driver's license, social security card, etc.

He never got a voter's registration card, which worried me, but he did get ballot instructions with his polling place and information on how to vote and who the candidates and questions on the ballot were, so we figured we were all right. When he checked in to vote, they had his name and address, but they issued him a provisional ballot. An election judge whisked him away without me. I understand that the right to vote is private and all that, but my son being autistic doesn't cope well with unexpected change. We had prepared him for voting: what issues were important to him, how the candidates stood on those issues, what the constitutional amendments were and what they meant, what the ballot looked like and how to fill it out -- he was informed and prepared to vote.

He spent half an hour in a corner of the gym, reading and filling out paperwork. He's a slow slow reader and writer. The printed word is not the best way to communicate information to him. Papa normally helps him with forms, explaining what they are and what they mean. This time I didn't get to help. A complete stranger with no knowledge of his disability plunked papers in front of him and left him to figure it out on his own. Eventually he got to sit at a voting booth and vote. The paper ballots are not like the computerized ballots, and the paper machines don't look like and don't work the same as the computerized machines that he was prepared for.

He thinks he got to vote for the candidates and issues he wanted, but he isn't sure.

When he came out, we asked an election judge why he was issued a provisional ballot. She didn't know. We got shuffled among three different tables. The upshot was nobody knew. They 'guessed' it was because his Social Security number and driver's license couldn't be verified -- both of which he had showed when he registered and both of which he had on him when he was voting. They assured us that if they could verify his registration, his vote would be counted.

Um, yeah.... I'm supposed to feel confident that his vote is going to be counted after all this? We did everything necessary to register to vote not once but twice and had all the proper paperwork and ID every single time... and they still have doubts about his registration?

And now Mr. Hank Steuver tells us that people who vote early are somehow not part of "We The People", that they're just some kind of hipster fashionsetters not to be taken seriously? Puhleeze.

For some of us, voting isn't easy. Some of us have to fight for the right to vote and make sacrifices. We shouldn't have to jump through triple sets of hoops to get registered to vote. We shouldn't have to make a choice between our job and our vote. We shouldn't have to be baffled and confused by the voting process.

Elections should be organized, accurate, and staffed by people who know what they're doing. Election offices -- and organizations that assist in registering voters -- should do so correctly and promptly. People with disabilities should be able to participate on the same terms as everybody else. I'm still wearing my 'I Voted' sticker. I earned it.

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