Voting, that basic tenet of Democracy is each citizen’s opportunity to exercise their voice at the ballot box.  Casting our ballots in a Democracy, we assume our voices are heard when the votes are tallied.   When the vote-counters disregard even a single vote, that voice is silenced. When voices are silenced, is this still a Democracy?

For nearly 18 months, I worked to get a minor party candidate’s name on Indiana’s ballot.  To me this was 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 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 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, believing they were registered to vote and had taken the time to help, were summarily dismissed by red slashes.

Had our party been able to gather signatures over the summer months prior to the election, we might have gotten our candidate’s name on the ballot.  However state lawmakers had incrementally moved up the submission deadline to June 30th, effectively slicing off 4 months of pre-election time.  Despite Herculean efforts by people across the state, we were unable to collect the required number of signatures before this new deadline.  Nonetheless, having properly filed all the necessary forms, our 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. 

A week before the election, the local newspaper ran an article about write-in candidates.  In it, the County Clerk, who serves as the area’s Election Officer, described the steps voters needed to follow to cast a vote for a write-in candidate.   On Election Day, I took my ballot to the standing carrel and carefully marked my choices.  As instructed in the newspaper article, I darkened the bubble next to “Write-in” and slowly and deliberately printed each letter of my candidate’s 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.

The following week, 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? 

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.  They have the mechanism for all candidates, both write-in and otherwise, 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:

I suggest you see an attorney“.

In a Democracy, no one should have to hire an attorney to make sure their vote is counted.  If you agree, please:

1)      write a signed email to votegreenmichiana@gmail.com , which we can print  and present at the next Election Board meeting on Wednesday, March 12 (this is will be their first meeting since the November 2007 elections)

2)      attend the next St Joe County Election Board meeting on Wednesday,  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)

3) call Rita Glenn, our elected County Clerk at (574) 234-9635 and tell her you want the St Joseph County Election Board to purchase the scanning mechanisms necessary to count write-in votes. 

4) send this piece to a friend or post a link on your blog to help generate phone calls and emails to the Clerk’s office.

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. 

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14 Responses to “What Happened to My Vote?”

  1. Julie Wille Says:

    It’s hard to believe it’s 2008 and a county such as St. Joseph cannot be bothered to count up write-in votes. I guess I assumed that any legally registered vote by law had to be counted. What is happening to Democracy?

  2. kathleen61 Says:

    Your assumption is correct, Julie. It is a federal offense to disregard legally cast votes. The Indiana State Election Board agreed that St Joe County’s Election Board broke the law when they did not count write-in votes, however the State Election Board’s lawyers only interpret the law. They do not enforce it. We would have had to hire our own attorney to force the issue in court.

  3. kathleen61 Says:

    I need to amend my last comment: the Indiana State Election Board has never ruled/spoken on the 2006 failed vote count issue. We were, in fact, in contact with the legal counsel for the Indiana Election Division, who affirmed St Joe County’s failure to count votes was illegal. He also told us the St Joe County Election Board’s question of whether they needed to count with “specificity” was not a valid excuse for failing to count legally cast votes.

  4. Jim Coplen Says:

    We will change all that by force of virtue. As a member of the INGP, I am committed to another drive for ballot access in 2010, using the things we’ve all learned.

  5. kspitz Says:

    Hey Kathleen,

    Great Revision…this flows well and is much more engaging than the first draft – without losing any of the “fire and emotion”.

    Great Job! see you in class.

    Gk

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