For a minor candidate’s name to appear on the state ballot, recently enacted election law demands the submission of over 30,000 certified voter signatures. Steadfast in my belief in Democracy, I took the challenge. To every person of likely voting age I met I posed the same questions: “Are you registered to vote? Would you please sign my petition to get my candidate’s name on the ballot?”
A few folks, including my mysteriously-ageless auntie, would have signed but felt the official petition’s requirement to disclose their date of birth was a violation of privacy. Others refused, stating they feared voters may choose my candidate over their party’s offering for that office.
But ninety-nine percent of the people I approached listened to my request for help and were willing to do their part for Democracy.
“Everyone should be able to run for office,” an older woman told me.
“The more choices, the better,” a young kid said, “I’m sick of what we have now.”
“I probably won’t vote for him,” a middle-aged guy said, “but you should be able to.”
Every week I took my sheets of government-approved forms, filled with signatures in accordance with government-mandated standards to the government Voter Registration office.
“More signatures for us to check?” asked the sweet, steel-haired ladies from behind their computers. “Only about half the signatures on your sheets from last week were good.”
“What was wrong with them?” I asked.
“Well, here’s a voter who moved without re-registering to vote. See? Here’s his registration under his old address. This one looks like a gal who got married and forgot to register with her new last name. See? Here’s her registration under her former name. These other names just weren’t in our computers.”
The Voter Registration ladies use red ink to draw lines through the signatures deemed “invalid” on petition sheets. I stared at my sheets violated with red. I thought of the hours those red-lined names represented and grieved their loss to my cause. I thought sadly of the kind citizens who believed they were registered to vote and had taken the time to help, now summarily dismissed by red slashes.
Despite Herculean efforts by people across the state, we were unable to collect the number of votes required before the shortened deadline erected by the state. Nonetheless, having properly filed all the necessary forms, my candidate was still eligible for write-in votes. Although this made him a long-shot to win, he might still garner enough votes so our minor party’s candidates could appear on the ballot in future elections without again having to gather signatures.
On Election Day, I took my ballot to the standing carrel and carefully marked my choices. As instructed for my candidate’s race, I darkened the bubble next to “Write-in” and slowly and deliberately printed each letter of his first and last name. An election official stood next to the ballot scanner. He smiled when I joked about putting my ballot into the “shredder” as I fed the sheet with my votes into the slot.
That night and the next day, the television media and local newspaper reported only race results for the “major” party candidates. Well, I knew he didn’t win, but it was important to know how my candidate fared.
Finally, I called the County Election Board:
“Hello. Could you please tell me how many votes were cast for my candidate in this county?”
“Let’s see. Well, the official number reported to the State Election Board was zero.”
“Could you repeat that, please?”
How could that be? I knew all the local campaign workers planned to vote for him. Many of my friends said they would vote for him. I was fairly certain my boyfriend voted for him. My mother told me she voted for him and I know I voted for him! How in the name of Democracy did Election Officials miss my vote?
Said the Official in Charge of Counting Votes, “we don’t have the mechanism in place to count write-in votes.”
They don’t have the mechanism to count votes? They have the mechanism for a person to file as a legitimate candidate. They have a mechanism to certify the thousands of signatures required to get on the ballot. Whether a candidate is a write-in or one whose name appears on the ballot, they have the mechanism for candidates to report every penny that comes into and out of a campaign. They even had the mechanism on the ballot for voters to write-in a legitimate candidate’s name. How does an Election Board not have a mechanism to count votes?
Pressed on this basic premise of Democracy, a government official on the Election Board said simply:
In a Democracy, no one should have to hire an attorney to make sure their vote is counted. If you agree, please:
1) post a comment on this blog with your name so we can present it at the next Election Board meeting,
2) write a signed email to email@example.com , which we can print and present at the next Election Board meeting,
3) attend the next St Joe County Election Board meeting on Wedenday, March 12 at 10:00 a.m. in the County Council Conference Chambers (4th floor, corner office, County City Building; ask security guards for directions, if necessary), or
4) call the County Clerk’s office at (574) 235-9635
and tell our elected officials, whose duty it is to uphold our Democracy that you:
a) want to go on record with your feelings about this issue,
b) demand the St Joe County Election Board goes on record to apologize to the voters who were disenfranchised and to the write-in candidates whose votes were disregarded in direct violation of Federal Election law in 2007 and 2006, and
c) demand the St Joe County Election Board invest in the mechanisms needed to properly count legitimate write-in ballots cast by voters.
Please do your part to ensure all voices are honored at the ballot box, thus securing for all of us that essence of Democracy, our Vote.