Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And My Vote Didn't Count

Yes, you read the title correctly.  My vote did not count.  I am simultaneously embarrassed, angered, and frustrated by the whole situation but being stuck here in Albania, there isn't a whole lot I can do about it.

I've always voted.  Whether it be a presidential election year or one that only has local candidates on the ballot, I haven't missed an election since my first vote in the 1992 election. Granted, that year, as I have done more often than not, my vote was cast by absentee ballot.  I still remember the Sunday afternoon when I sat in the Mount Holyoke College library feeling so grown up as I used a Number 2 pencil to fill in my little bubbles on my State of Maine ballot.  I relished that opportunity that as an American citizen is a right, and responsibility, and a privilege.

While I only follow politics loosely, I've always made sure that whenever I have moved my status as a registered voter has followed me.  The first thing I did upon becoming a Massachusetts resident was to make sure I was registered in my local city.  The same held true when I became a Virginia resident.  At that point, Virginia made it easy by allowing me to complete my voter registration form while applying for my Commonwealth of Virginia driver's license.

During our brief fourteen months of living in Washington D.C. I kept my residency in Norfolk and voted in the one local election by absentee ballot.  Immediately prior to our move to Albania, I finally got around to changing my address on my driver's license to reflect our new Dulles, VA mailing address.  No longer owning property in Norfolk and knowing we would be living overseas during this important presidential election, I made sure I also changed by voter registration information.  With the completion of the form, I was now a registered voter in Loudoun County, Virginia--- or so I thought.  This was in June 2011 and not hearing otherwise, I assumed I was all set.  Despite all of the get out to vote information that has permeated the Embassy over the past several months, I never gave my registration status another thought.  This past summer I even received a letter from the City of Norfolk confirming that I was no longer a registered voter in there.

Late last month (yes I procrastinated) when I went to download my ballot from the internet, I first began to suspect something might not be right.  I was asked to reverify my registration information, which I thought was strange but I did.  I then downloaded, completed, and mailed via snail-mail my completed ballot.  I didn't give too much more thought to my vote until last week when I received an official looking letter from the Loudoun County Registrar of Voters.  Apparently it had been mailed two weeks prior but due to our slow mail system, it took that long to reach me.  In no uncertain terms, the letter informed me that I was not eligible to vote in Loudoun County since I did not have a valid residential address there.  I know this isn't a valid address and they informed me as much in stating that I had a Department of State overseas address.  But what am I supposed to do if I don't have a valid residential address? I don't live in the United States and don't own property there so I don't have a residential address there.  What was I supposed to have put in the address line?

I am angry and frustrated about this entire situation.  I believe that every American should get out and vote and I am embarrassed that I wasn't more proactive about my own situation.  Our ancestors fought for the right for all Americans to vote and I feel that by not doing my part, I have let them down.  I am frustrated by a system that does not make it easy and clearer for a military family serving overseas to easily be able to cast a ballot.  I am frustrated by Loudoun County who took so long to inform me that I wasn't eligible to vote there. Given the large number of Department of State employees whose mail gets processed in Dulles I surely can't be the first person to make this mistake.  But mostly I am angry at myself.  I should have followed through and questioned my status much earlier in this election process.  I should have made sure that I had a residential address in Virginia to claim as my own.  I really have no excuse and really only have myself to blame.

So I was not able to cast a vote in the all important swing state of Virginia.  It is a (very) small consolation that for entirely different reasons, Glenn was not able to cast his ballot in the equally swinging state of Florida.  Since we would have voted for different candidates (something we were both recently surprised to discover) maybe our votes, or lack there of, would have cancelled each other out.

As I head to bed on this election evening (we are after all, six hours ahead of East Coast time), I wonder if I will wake up with a new American president.  Given how close the race appears to be I wonder whether we will even know.  Whatever the case, my vote will not be one of the millions cast.  So if Virginia swings in either direction by a single vote, I will only have myself to blame.

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