Mosaic / October 30, 2008

Catalan Chronicle: The absent absentee ballot

When filling out absentee ballots in Barcelona as a group, students with the Knox program figured they would be getting their ballots soon. However, this was not the case for everyone.

Voters missing their absentee ballot can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), a five-page form.

The U.S. Consulate explains “the FWAB serves as an emergency ballot for voters who registered in time but fail to receive an official ballot from local election officials. The FWAB is available at or from any U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”

In this case the voter is allowed to vote for three positions: president, representative to Congress, and U.S. Senator, but not state measures. In some cases, the voter is allowed to write in candidates for offices other than federal positions, but this depends on their state’s regulations.

Junior Kyrstle Susmani was one of the students who did not receive a ballot. Though she filled out an absentee ballot form, her ballot was sent to Knox, and then back to her home in California. Partly due to this mix up, Susmani chose not to vote this year.

“I just feel that my vote really wouldn’t have counted. California isn’t a swing state, so my vote wouldn’t have mattered,” said Susmani, expressing her disenchantment with the Electoral College.

Additionally, Susmani was unimpressed by what the FWAB allowed her to vote for.

“If you go through the whole process you only get to vote for the presidential election. I wanted to vote for the [state] provisions and measures.”

Susmani explained that California had a measure on the ballot proposing to ban gay marriage and that she wanted to vote against the ban. She believes that her inability to receive a ballot shows “how unreliable the voting system is.”

Susmani finds that other students share this apathetic attitude toward voting. They believe that if the voting process is difficult, it is not worth the trouble, especially when they believe their vote will not count anyway.

“If you could vote online I would have done it. Computers are everywhere, so more people would vote, as many don’t want to take the time [to go vote,]” she said, adding that the system would need to be made “hacker-proof.’

Junior Ellie Poley, age 20, went through the emergency vote process. She registered in Galesburg before she left. After waiting until the last moment before she would need to fill out the FWAB, she called the Galesburg county clerk, who told her the ballot had been sent out a month ago. Poley assumed it was lost in the mail.

In order to vote, she had to go to the U.S. consulate in Barcelona. There she had to pass the security screen, put her bag through an x-ray, surrender her cell phone and portable radio, and carry a security clearance ID. Next, she filled out a one-page affirmation that required ID numbers, contact information, and a sworn oath that she was who she said she was. She then received a half page with three lines she was supposed to fill in, one for president/vice president, one for U.S. senator, and one for the congressional representative. If one does not know the candidates they can search for the information online, or simply write in the party they wish to win.

“I put it in the mail and hoped for the best,” Poley said in a tone that expressed her doubt at the efficiency of vote counting.

Poley was excited to vote for Kathy Cummings of the Illinois Green Party for state senator, a candidate who shares Poley’s more radical political views and wants to define war as terrorism.

Though Poley voted for Cummings, she said, “I figured my vote wouldn’t count because Dick Durbin is ahead by one third of the vote.”

She also voted for Phil Hare (running unopposed) for Congress, and Barack Obama for president. She sees Obama as a compromise between her vote for Hare and Cummings, as Obama does not share all of Poley’s political views, but whom she believes has a better chance of winning than the lesser-known candidates.

“The way a lot of people vote in our country is for the best option; we have this fear of voting for the smaller candidate,” she said.

Though Poley is worried her vote may not get to the states in time, be lost, or not counted, she wants to be able to say “I’ve done everything I could.”

She wistfully said she wanted to be able to tell her grandchildren that she had “voted for the first African-American president of America in [her] first federal election.”

Hoping Obama will win, Poley wants to look back on this election as “a movement of change.”

“For me, it’s sort of strange to think about the fact that Bush has been in office my entire life as a politically aware person…[voting] is representative of me becoming an adult, that I can do something, however small, in the democratic process of my country,” said Poley.

Klayr Valentine-Fossum

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