A reader writes:
I've had an enormous number of hassles with absentee voting this year - hassles that have really shaken my faith in the basic durability of our electoral system. I e-mailed my registrar for an absentee ballot request form, a form which never arrived. I e-mailed again, and was told that a form had been mailed on the day after my original e-mail had been sent, and was asked if I wanted to request a second form. This time the form arrived - a week after I had been told it had mailed - and I filled it out.
I am still waiting for my absentee ballot.
I don't know what to think. Is someone intercepting my ballot? Is the county elections commissioner overworked and understaffed, or is he slowing down ballots of those whose names are recorded as voters in certain party primaries? I live in Chicago; is the vaunted "machine" doing something sneaky at the post office? I have no way of knowing.
What I do know, though, is that I mailed a Netflix DVD on the same day, and since that day I have received a new Netflix DVD, watched the movie, sent it back, and received ANOTHER Netflix DVD. So while something seems to be the problem, it is apparently not the mail carriers.
What I dislike most about absentee voting is the loss of community. I love lining up at a school or church with my neighbors, most of whom I don't know, and feeling a certain sense of shared purpose and identity. I'm not a very social person, but voting is one occasion that I want to be around my neighbors. It's one time when we aren't consumers, but citizens, exercising a fundamental right and responsibility. I've missed voting twice in 33 years, both minor elections, and I still kick myself about those misses.
More pragmatically, I would hate to vote for a candidate a month before the election and then learn something that would have changed my vote!
As a Washington state resident, let me tell you that your concern about the effective abandonment of the secret ballot in mail-only voting states is well-merited. My younger brother attends an expensive private college, which my father generously pays for. As a condition of the tuition subsidy, however, my father demands that my brother surrender his signed ballot to him for him to fill out as he chooses. Unsurprisingly, my brother and my father have pretty different political leanings. But my brother has effectively forfeited his right to vote in exchange for $35,000 a year of college tuition.