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 would collapse the day my Democracy failed. 

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

For a minor candidate’s name to appear on the ballot, state law demanded the submission of an astronomical number of 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?” 

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,” remarked a middle-aged guy, “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. There, the sweet, steel-haired ladies dutifully checked my forms against their computers to verify if the signatures I’d wrested were legitimate.   For all my work, the government ladies certified only about half of the signatures I submitted.  Sometimes the signature failures were voters who had forgotten they had moved.  Some were women who had married and forgotten to update their records with their new last names.  Most of the time, though, the person’s name apparently just wasn’t in the government’s voting system. 

Despite Herculean efforts by people across the state, it wasn’t enough to overcome the barriers erected by the state against third parties.  Nonetheless, having properly filed all the necessary forms, the candidate was still eligible for write-in votes.  Although this made him a long-shot to win, he might still garner enough votes so party 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 had 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?” 

“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 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? 

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

You don’t have the mechanism to count votes?  You have the mechanism for a person to file as a legitimate candidate.  You 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,  you have the mechanism for candidates to report every penny that comes into and out of a campaign. You 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: 

“I suggest you see an attorney.” 

I don’t think I should have to hire an attorney to ensure my government counts my vote? 

Do you?   

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