Thursday, October 29, 2020

keeping the franchise alive after moving to mexico

I have voted.

If you had asked me earlier in the year the one thing I was positive would not happen in my life, it would be writing that sentence.  Several times in the last three months, I have decided this year's American election could do without  my participation. And that is a big break from my past.

I have been personally involved in every American election (and a few elections in other countries) since 1952. First, as a toddler distributing political literature and impersonating the political convention speakers on the radio. Then, as a voter, and, eventually, a candidate myself. Having turned 21 (the required age at the time), I have voted in every election where I have been eligible since 1970.

Not voting in 2020 would be a break in a long streak. I simply was not motivated to do it.

I was concerned, when I moved to Mexico, that I would no longer have the option of voting. But the county clerk of Washoe County dutifully came to my rescue by mailing a Nevada ballot to me each election cycle.

My first absentee ballot arrived in 2010 with plenty of time to mail it north. But the last three or four elections have arrived too late to post. My sole option was to scan and email the ballot or to fax it back to the clerk. In both cases, I gave up the privilege of a secret ballot.

Because of the virus this year, Nevada offered its citizens another option -- voting electronically. I am a sucker for anything new, so I decided to try it. At first, it seemed rather simple. I typed in my personal information and a ballot popped up for my precinct.

Nevada uses its drivers' license system to verify identity for electronic ballots. In theory, the voter's signature on the license will migrate over to the ballot verification system. Mine did not. But it allowed me to complete my ballot. At first, I thought the system merely masked my signature.

When the ballot is filled in, it is supposed to automatically create a PDF file encoded with a password known only to the county clerk. I tried repeatedly, but the system would not conform my ballot.

The obvious answer was to call Washoe County. After being on hold for a bit, a very helpful clerk came on line. I explained my problem. She told me the problem was exactly as I thought. If my signature did not migrate, the ballot could not be completed. Unfortunately, the registry would now show that I had voted -- even though I had not.

I asked her if I sent in my absentee ballot would it be counted. The best she could tell me was maybe. My absentee ballot may be challenged by the system. The clerk would then contact me -- depending on the number of challenged ballots the office had to deal with. The vague scent of an impending felony indictment hung over the conversation. 

I left it there. After all, it might turn out to be academic. My absentee ballot had not yet arrived, and it might not show up in my postal box until after 3 November. That would make everything quite easy.

While I was in Oregon this last time, I was tempted to fly to Nevada to vote in person. But my stay there was too brief. This week I made a tentative reservation to fly to Reno on Saturday and stay the week there -- for the sole purpose of voting.

But spending several thousand dollars on airfare, accomodations, and food did not seem to be a very good bargain when the only thing I would be doing was voting in an election where my concern meter was pegged near zero. Omar tipped the balance in favor of cancelling the reservations. He needs me to drive him to Ciudad Guzman next week for his university admission examination.

Today's mail provided a better answer. My ballot showed up along with my August-September edition of the Oregon bar bulletin. That is both of them in the photograph. I snapped the lineup shot to give you some context for the size of the Nevada ballot. It makes the bulletin look like a pamphlet. The magazine is a full 8 1/2 x 11. The ballot is nearly 20 inches long.

That is relevant only because I cannot mail my ballot to arrive in Reno on time. If I lived in Reno, there is no guarantee that a ballot mailed today would get there on time.

Washoe County still allows the two additional options I mentioned above -- sending the scanned ballot through email or faxing. In the past, I have not been able to scan the full length of the ballot on any local scanners. I suspect that means my ballots may not have been counted. This year, I even thought of having the ballot couriered north by DHL.

Then, Gord Oliver, a Facebook reader, came up with a solution. After I updated the Adobe Scan app on my Samsung, I was able to scan the front and back of the ballot along with an executed Declaration of Covered Voter. I attached the scans to an email and sent it to the clerk. An automated service notified me within minutes that the ballot had been received. Of course, it did not tell me whether or not my ballot will be counted.

I am no stranger to voting by mail. We Oregonians have been doing that for almost 30 years. There were several problems when the system first went into place. 

Even though I have that amount of experience with mail voting, I was surprised at the number of mistakes I made in both my electronic ballot and then preparing my absentee ballot to send back to the clerk. It will be interesting to see how many of us Nevadans have submitted unacceptable homework. 

That is another issue. I am simply happy that election officials can provide me with new (and sometimes challenging) ways to exercise my franchise -- even if my interest in what happens north of the Rio Bravo ebbs every year.

Life here is enough to sustain my interest. 

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