Why I Decided Not to Vote

…By Mail

California Voting Information
No. I would not squander my vote like that. It’s actually the one responsibility I have as a citizen of this republic. Democracy is by the people, for the people, of the people; until those people stop voting. Its not perfect, but no human endeavor is. Worse, if people are dying in Iran, Egypt and Syria to gain the right to vote, little kids are dying to be able to vote in the future, and then I have absolutely no excuse to skip a single election. Those kids (and adults), they are my inspiration, they are my heroes, as are the millions of people across the developing world who lack the right to vote, who lack our rights. What good are rights if we neglect our responsibilities?

But mail in ballots, its a convenience. It is made to make voting easier, more accessible to the electorate. Here in California a good chunk of the vote happens through mail in ballots. I actually had decided to do that in order to forgo making time in my schedule to go into the polling location.  However, NPR scared me into not voting by mail this time.

Living in a Fool’s [Voting] Bliss

According to the article the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that in 2012 more than a quarter of a million absentee ballots were rejected. Worse, this is something that was an issue this past year in California’s May election. A report by the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation found that .8 percent of the mail ballots cast in four elections in Orange, Santa Cruz and Sacramento counties were never counted.

But this isn’t a recent occurrence, in fact according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, 26,000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the November 2010 election, which was reported in a committee analysis of Senate Bill 29, which addresses mail ballots to be counted if they were post marked on the day of the election. This might seem like a trivial issue, but voting matters, especially when you are not stateside, because you work for the state department or are military personal who are overseas.

We are encouraged to vote by mail, by both political parties get out the vote campaigns, as well as government agencies responsible for carrying out the election. Yet it seems to me that the laws and procedures have not kept pace preventing disenfranchisement of voters.

Automatic Disenfranchisement

For instance, I didn’t know this until I heard the NPR report, and what made me stop dead in my tracks from voting by mail in this election, but one of the rules in California stipulates that if your signature on your mail in ballot doesn’t match the signature on file with the DMV (on your drivers license) your ballot is invalid and therefore your vote does not count.

What the heck! I went to go match my signatures. While they seem similar, it doesn’t mean that someone matching the signatures will feel confident enough to let my vote count. I don’t trust the system, especially with voter suppression taking place all across the country, my vote means that much more too me, and it should to you too!

This “mistake [signatures not matching] is a big problem, says [Kim] Alexander. In California, all absentee ballot signatures are checked against the ones the election office has in its records. But many of those signatures come from the Department of Motor Vehicles, where people sign their names using a stylus on a pad, which can look a lot different than a signature written on paper.”

As a voter it is our responsibility to conform to the rules, however, it’s hard when you don’t know what the rules are. I looked, and there was no warning mentioning that my ballot would be disqualified if my signature doesn’t match the one on file.  But voting shouldn’t be complicated, and the average American should be able to vote easily. I believe that is the key to maintaining a vibrant democracy; more participation by the people, not less. (Certainly preventing 5.9 million Americans from voting this Tuesday is a peril to the democratic nature of our nation!)

Voter Rights [AND RESPONSIBILITIES]

That doesn’t absolve voters of our responsibility to be an informed electorate. There are a few common mistakes that could be avoided, that were indicated as common occurrences by the report published in August by the California Voter Foundation:

  • The voter forgets to sign the ballot envelope, as required.
  • The voter sends the envelope back, but forgets to include the ballot.
  • The voter uses the wrong envelope.
  • The voter already voted in person.
  • The voter’s signature on the ballot envelope doesn’t match the one on file.

I will proceed to the nearest polling station this Tuesday, surrender my mail in ballot, and vote the the ol’fashion way, get a sticker too! If you’re interested in learning more about participatory democracy, about voting, and in general the challenges American democracy faces, check out this book I am reading currently by Professor William Hudson called “American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to America’s Future.”

What I am left with is an uneasy feeling that all this time, several years of voting now, my vote may not have counted at all (when I mailed it!). I agree with the sentiment Kim Alexander (read her blog here) from California Voter Foundation states that at the very least the California Election Commission should be notifying voters when their ballots have been rejected and why, so that way I don’t make the same mistake again. For all I know I may have been living in a fools paradise all this time flaunting the benefits of voting and implementing civic engagement but not having my vote count!

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