Trump repeatedly claims that this year’s postal vote will be rife with corruption, and for once I have to agree. Here’s my story, and some tips on how to make sure your vote gets counted.
I am a dual US/UK citizen. My experience of voting by post in the UK has been simple and straightforward. However, in the US it’s more like a running gag.
I have been living in the UK for the last 35 years. Every 4 years since 1988 I have tried, without success, to vote in a presidential election. Each attempt has become a new chapter in what is now a modern farce.
I have a paper trail for my commiserations older than my own children. It first started in archaic handwritten letters to friends across the pond. As technology changed and evolved, my anger graduated to emails, text, tweets, and now the latest chapters are played out in live streaming the whole shameful business.
The 2016 presidential election was the closest I came to actually vote, and the biggest palava yet. My state of residence is Pennsylvania (for US ex-pats it will be the last state you lived in before emigrating). It is also one of the strictest and most difficult states to vote in if you live abroad.
Online advice in 2016 said I could email a photocopied PDF of my signed completed registration and a ballot request form to my “home” county, where I had been registered since becoming of age to vote. Four emails later and no evidence of registration, I called the relevant officers in local county government. They also said I could email the form to them and they would complete the registration. Two more emails to those individuals directly and, you guessed it, not registered.
My home county ‘claim’ not to have received the emails, despite responding to a sixth email using the same address saying they had not received any of the other emails. To say the least, I was frustrated. The office of voter registration in my home county then suggested I send the form by fax.
Voting by Smoke Signal and Carrier Pigeon
In the year of our lady Carrie Fisher, 2016, fax has been a long dead technology. After spending a couple of hours online, I found a service that didn’t cost the earth to send a fax reliably, with the documents I’d need to register to vote. It took a further two days to find a friend who still had a fax machine.
Through the graces of my friend’s fax, I ran tests to prove that the office of voter registrations could receive my documents. When I send the real thing, I make sure to get a receipt for when the real documents are sent, as proof that they had arrived. Not one, not two, but three faxes and another two weeks later, you can imagine the response I received.
Unfortunately, we did not receive your documentation. Have you tried…
Despite proof of receipt saying the home county office got the two faxes, my form was not even processed. After 8 different attempts following their contrary and inane ‘advice’, they then inform me that I must mail them the form as they require a signature sample.
EIGHT copies of the form, three phone calls, a fist full of emails, and months of precious time wasted, only to be told by the paid people whose job it is to facilitate this whole fiasco that they needed a physical signature from me, and that an email or fax would NEVER do.
Time is passing, and it’s not helping that now I have to snail-mail a form to the US, and wait 2-3 weeks for the office to deign me, a simple-minded US citizen, with a response. But what choice do I have? I sent:
- 2x 1st class Letters, meant to arrive an average of 7-10 working days at their destination. No evidence of registration.
- A Signed and Tracked Letter, guaranteed to arrive within 3-7 days. I have objective proof from a 3rd party (thanks USPS!) that they’ve received my form.
To my surprise, it actually works. I’m registered to vote!
Anyone can go online to FVAP.gov and request a public copy of any US citizens registration form. All you have to do is pick a State, file an online request, and you will receive that State’s registration form, fully filled out and ready to print. Important to note, on that form, it asks for ‘Political Party’.
On first 10 of the attempts, I selected Democrat. On the 11th and final form, I made a mistake and selected Republican. It’s funny–one might even say suspicious–that this was the form that got processed. In a Red county. By people who have either ignorantly or deliberately given me the wrong advice 10 times on how to register.
10 times as a Democrat, no luck. The one form as a Republican? Well, I could say that I’m ready to Make America Give-a-damn Again.
I Can Vote? Oh No You Can’t…
In Pennsylvania, the registration form and ballot request are the same form. Though I was now registered, I never received my 2016 ballot to vote. Fearing (well, more like expecting) the worst, I sent another ballot request form (1st class, tracked & signed 3-7 days), to no response. FVAP.gov and Vote.gov both offer you a ballot that you can fill in and send, providing you are already registered, have a registration number, and send it by printing off the correct paperwork and envelopes. I printed off my ballot package and sent it in (1st class, tracked & signed 3-7 days) in early October 2016! Finally, I’d beat the corrupt system and exercised my democratic right as a US citizen.
HAHA WRONG! The ballot then sat for 3 weeks in a New York state custom’s office. It made it to the county office one day late.
Learning From the Past
This year, I sent my registration form tracked and signed and it arrived May 18, 2020. One month later and I am not registered. I email my congressman(R) saying I’m registered Republican (not willingly, but he doesn’t need to know that) and need assistance. Lo and behold, three days later the same people from the county’s voter registration office reply that they can’t find it. My goose having been got, I sent a snarky reply with images of the receipt that my tracked form had been received, with their own signature (shout out to USPS). The very next day, I was told that mysteriously my registration request had been found and that my ballot will be sent on 19 September 2020. I am not holding my breath.
Why go through all this bullshit? Because I am an American Citizen. It is my basic and first right to have my say in my democracy. To not vote is to give my rights away. If I do not speak for myself, then how can I expect anyone to stand up for me.
- Check That You Are Still Registered
Just because you voted last year does not mean you are still registered this year. The laws have changed!* Go to NASS site > select your state and check if you are registered.
- DO IT NOW!
Don’t wait. Trump’s crony has made massive changes and cuts to the postal service. Weeks may be added to postal times with ballots being lumped into one pile.
Srsly! Every state has different rules. Make sure you read ALL the fine print. Vote.gov is your friend!
- Get Photo ID.
In most states you can’t buy alcohol without it. A non-driving driver’s license or “state ID”. Non-driver’s license costs $20.00. Yes, they are a pain in the arse to get, but since 2016’s attempt to restrict voter access, you need one. It’s not about restricting your freedom and demanding to see your papers (if that were true you would not be on social media). It’s about protecting your rights.
- Red or Blue?
Consider making your affiliation that of the county you are registering in. This will help to counter huiman bias. There’s nothing stopping you voting the opposite party or writing in Mikey Mouse (who would defo make a better President than whoever is currently running.)
- Take a Photo of Your Signatre
You will need this when you vote. Don’t Forget!
- Post It 1rst Class, Tracked & Signed For
Get proof of delivery. Everything else can be put down to “lost”.
- Track Your App
Whether you register online or by post, check it! Just because you sent in the form doesn’t mean it’s been processed.
- Get More Printer Ink
If voting from abroad and you have to print off the envelopes it may take several goes (10 for me) to get the envelope to print out correctly and to size. If your envelope is smeared, not the right size, not printed in the right way, it will be disposed of and your vote will not be counted.
- Your Signature MUST MATCH
Remember when I told you to take a picture of your signature? If the signature on your ballot envelope does not strongly match the one on your registration form – it will be disposed of and your vote will not be counted. A biased human eye will be deciding this. So make them match.
- DO IT NOW!
Pay attention to the date your ballot MUST be received by. If it is late, it will be disposed of and your vote will not be counted. As soon as you receive your ballot, fill it out and post it!
- Post It 1rst Class, Tracked & Signed For
Get proof of delivery. Everything else can be put down to “lost”. Plus, tracking will show you where your ballot has been and where any hold up might be.
And finally, if you don’t get your ballot, go here: FVAP.gov > select your state > select “step 2” > follow instructions to fill out and print a “Backup Ballot”.
Don’t let the politicians keep you down!
EDIT: On the plus side, if 20 million voters send their votes Tracked and Signed For, we might raise enough money to counter the funds Trump is now denying USPS.