Monday, November 3, 2008

Hanging With Chad

I have never had any kind of trouble voting here in DC, as my polling place is literally one block up the street. Located in a run-down middle school (all schools in DC are run-down), I usually wander up the street around mid-morning on election day. There has never been a line of people in front of me; the only waiting occurs while the election official laboriously tries to locate my name on her roster. In DC, our election-day volunteers usually find reading a challenge. And my name is a bit of a problem. I am registered, of course, with my first and last name, just like everybody else. Unfortunately, my name happens to be one of the most popular male names in the English language, so there is always some question about which "Robert Williams" I am.

But aside from that mild frustration, I have never, ever waited in line to vote in DC. But we've all been inundated with stories of the massive turn-out expected this year, so I thought I'd avoid any problems and vote absentee.

Last week, I walked downtown to the election board to pick up my absentee ballot. I almost always voted absentee in Los Angeles to avoid the crowds, though I suspect these ballots are never opened unless the election is close enough that they will make a difference. And here in DC, national elections are NEVER close, the city is so overwhelmingly Democratic. Presidential candidates don't even bother to campaign here.

But I want to do my civic duty and vote and all that. The elections board downtown was hosting DC's early voting, and a very long line snaked outside the office. Fortunately, I skipped right in to pick up my mail-in ballot. It was a pleasant walk.

I now have opened my ballot and read the instructions, which confuse the heck out of me. First of all, with this ballot, you have the option of mailing it in. At your own expense! And Warning! It may require additional postage! But why don't they already know whether or not the ballot requires extra postage? Haven't they weighed it? It's a single sheet of paper. Since they don't know for sure what the postage for the ballot will be, you have to take the ballot to the post office to mail it. Ironically, but completely typical of the DC government services, the lines at the post office are always substantial, while the line at the polling office is non-existent. Perhaps I'll decline to use the absentee ballot and just go vote.

But here's the even bigger riot. In order to obtain an absentee ballot, you have to claim to be out of town on election day, or too incapacitated to show up at the polling place. However, if you don't want to mail your absentee ballot, you can turn it in to the polling station on election day.

Got that? You have to claim to be out of town on election day in order to use the ballot, but you are allowed to turn it in, in person, on election day.

Who's at the wheel of this thing?