In my life as a white, middle class American, I’ve been failed by businesses, relationships and religious dogma.  But I never imagined that the thing I most believed in, the thing I held most dear, would vanish before me and slip from my grasp the day Democracy failed for me.

For nearly 18 months, I worked to get my candidate’s name on the Indiana ballot.  To me, it represented an opportunity to put an intelligent, energetic person in public office, to my party, it meant a chance for permanent ballot access and to every voter, it offered another choice on Election Day. 

Because my candidate represented a minor party, state law demanded submission of an astronomical number of certified signatures to have his name printed on the ballot.  Undaunted and steadfast in my belief in Democracy, I took the challenge.  To every person of likely voting age I met in every elevator, in every bank, post office and grocery store line and to every person at every social gathering I posed the same questions: “Are you registered to vote in Indiana? Would you please sign my petition to get my candidate’s name on the ballot?”

Ninety-nine percent of the people I approached listened to my request for help.  Of that group of people, ninety-nine percent 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 to government-mandated standards to the government’s Voter Registration office at the County City Building.  There, the sweet, steel-haired ladies dutifully took my government forms and checked their government computers to verify if the signatures I’d wrested were legitimate.   For every sheet on which all the signatures were certified, there were another nine sheets on which only half the signatures were good.  Sometimes the signature failures were voters who had forgotten they had moved.  Sometimes they were women who had married and hadn’t updated their records with their new names.  Most of the time, though, it seemed the person’s name just wasn’t in the government’s voting system.

Despite Herculean efforts, it wasn’t enough to overcome the state’s barrier of signatures required within the recently narrowed timeline.  However, having properly filed all the necessary forms, my candidate was still eligible for write-in votes.  This made him an even greater long-shot for the office, but at the very least we could determine the baseline of support for the voices represented by our political party.

Campaigning for the candidate continued.  We asked the county election board and local newspaper to run an article instructing voters on the proper procedure for casting a vote for a legitimate write-in candidate, which they did.

On Election Day, 2006, I proudly took my ballot to the standing carrel and carefully marked my choices.  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, television media reported only race results for the “major” party candidates.  No matter, I thought, surely the newspaper, after having published an article about write-in candidates, would print the results for all the candidates.  Next day’s paper, nothing.  Only news about the “major” candidates’ races.  Well, I knew he didn’t win, but it would have been nice to know how he did.

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 we reported to the State Election Board was zero.”

“Could you repeat that, please?”

“Zero.”

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 pretty 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 they miss my vote?

“We don’t have the mechanism in place to count write-in votes.”

You don’t have the mechanism to count votes?  You have the mechanism to require thousands of signatures to be gathered and certified to get a name on the ballot. You have the mechanism to file as a legitimate candidate and a mechanism to report every penny that comes into and out of a campaign, whether someone is a write-in candidate or one whose name is on the ballot. You even had the mechanism on the ballot for voters to write-in a legitimate candidate’s name.  How is it you don’t have a mechanism to count votes? 

When asked to provide the actual number of votes cast for my candidate in this county, a government official on the County Election Board declined and said:

“I suggest you see an attorney.”

I don’t have the money to hire an attorney to force my government to count my vote?  Do you?

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