Thursday, October 6, 2016

Voting Shouldn't Be This Difficult

I have been trying since last week Thursday (five working days so far) to take care of my absentee vote ballot so that I can mail it to the municipal clerk in FdL*, Wisconsin (USA) in time to count for the upcoming presidential election.

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Voting should be easy and free, right? In fact, look at that! I even found a graphic to support my assumption. (To be fair, requesting the ballot was easy and free.)

Wrong.

Thanks to Wisconsin Act 261 (specifically Sections 76 and 78) from 2015, I need an adult U.S. citizen to witness me fill out my ballot and place it in "a small envelope" and then sign his or her name and write his or her address on the "Official Absentee Ballot Certification," which I then place in "a larger envelope" to send off to FdL soon enough that it has a chance of arriving before election day. Sounds reasonable, and I've got envelopes of all sizes at home.

Yeah, I know. Looks easy, doesn't it?
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For most people this would not be a problem, but here's the thing: I do not know any Americans in my area. The nearest fellow American blogger I know is in Stuttgart, which is an hour and €20 ($22) away by train, and the other lives near the Bodensee, which is two hours and probably about €40 from here by train.

They have both offered to help me, and while I would enjoy seeing them again, I do sort of think that a person should not have to drive that far and pay that much to vote in an American presidential election. I may, in fact, be taking the train next week to see one of them for the two minutes it will take for her to witness my ballot, but I keep thinking there must be a solution that costs very little time and no money.

Last week Thursday I started making phone calls and sending emails to explain my predicament and try to scare up an adult American citizen in my area willing to sign her/his name and address on my ballot certificate. Although I firmly believe it is no one's damn business where this person lives, the small print in the Act (seen only online, not in the instructions that came with my ballot) states that the ballot is invalid if the witness does not include his or her address.

These are the people/organizations I have contacted or tried to contact so far:
  • German-American Institute in Tübingen (DAI)
  • Volkshochschule in Horb
  • Volkshochschule in Nagold
  • Ausländeramt in Horb
  • International School in Sindelfingen
  • U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt
  • Online community (forum) at Expat.com
  • the two American bloggers I know who live 60 and 90 minutes from me by car (without traffic problems) respectively
I emailed the DAI but received no response. After the holiday weekend I called, and the receptionist said she can send around an email to their contacts, but she couldn't promise anything.

The director of the language courses at the VHS in Horb doesn't know of any Americans in town, but he gave me the name of a colleague of his at the Nagold campus.

I emailed his colleague in Nagold and got an automated response: she is out of the office until tomorrow and therefore won't be able to respond until at least next Monday.

The Ausländeramt in Horb can't tell me if there are other Americans living in the area because of privacy laws.

I sent an email to the International School, but they have not responded yet (it's only been one day, though).

I called the consulate, but did so at 4:30 p.m. and they close every day at 4:00 p.m.. I don't actually think they can do anything for me anyway, unless I drive three hours to Frankfurt which I am not going to do. The second time I called, the person I was transferred to was not available.

I got a few responses through the expat forum recommending I contact the consulate or the DAI in Tübingen, and one American in Stuttgart spent quite some time writing back and forth, not believing me that I need this witness because he couldn't find any proof online. I don't even blame him. He said he might be willing to help me, but he first wanted verification that my request is legit.


My dear friend HC came to see me this afternoon, and I told her about this ridiculousness. I told her one of my ideas is to go to Tübingen (a university town), wander around until I hear American English, and ask the person to witness my ballot. She lives near Tübingen, and she suggested we go together next week, stop first at the DAI, and if that's a dead end we'll go trapsing around together in search of people speaking American.

We agreed to meet on Monday, and then I found out the DAI is closed on Mondays. We'll have to pick another day.

I now carry my ballot, certification, detailed and highlighted instructions, a printout of the relevant part of Act 261 with the bits about the required witness highlighted, and a small and large envelope with me in my purse, on the off chance that while I am out and about I overhear someone speaking American.

Wish me luck! I'll let you know how this ends, and I hope to get a photo of me with the person who agrees to sign this damn thing (which I will not post without permission!).

Believe me, I'm trying.
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*FdL is the abbreviation of the last town I lived in in Wisconsin, and where I am still registered to vote.




9 comments:

  1. Oh no! That is absolutely horrible. If I were around, I'd sign it for you. If you decide to go to Stuttgart, let me know. I could ask one of my colleagues there to sign it for your.

    Michigan is so much easier. I signed up online; they email me the ballot, and I signed it myself.

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    1. Thank you! I'm aiming for Tübingen at the moment because it's closer, but if I go to Stuttgart I think I can find K. from Travel Hungry. I appreciate your offer, and you'll definitely hear from me if I need one of your colleagues. Is Moo a US citizen? Maybe I could come to your place and he could sign it. :-) There's nothing that says the signature must be legible...

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    2. Moo is a Michiganander all the way! Of course his signature is legible. It's a cat paw print ;)

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  2. I'd offer to sign it for you, but I'm in Konstanz. Luckily, there's plenty of Americans here at the uni so I'll find a student next week to sign mine. I think it's a ridiculous law that they pass, along with this voter ID junk. It's as if they think that by leaving the States we're not trying to get away from other Americans! ;)

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    1. The blokes who wrote that law probably couldn't imagine a world in which an American wouldn't choose to surround herself with other Americans (and what would they care anyway, as long as they make it difficult to vote). In my first year here I did greet someone I heard speaking American English, and it ended up being a dreadful mistake. I never did that again. I do enjoy online contact with fellow bloggers, though!

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  3. Add this to the list of things I completely forgot about since the last election! If you have any desire to come to Nürnberg for the day, we could swap witnesses. Wisconsin Solidarity and all. :) Either way, hope you can find a fellow Ami somewhere!

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    1. Nürnberg should be easy - just take your paperwork, head to the Marktplatz, and listen for someone speaking American. :-) My next post will explain how I solved my problem with no help from any of the official sources. But hey - in four years, let's meet with our ballots!

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    2. Haha, no kidding! Although fall does bring a major slowing of the Viking river cruisers, soon the Christmas market crowd will arrive.... :-O But luckily I know a few other Americans in town so no need to go trawling the Hauptmarkt. Looking forward to hearing your solution, and yes... let's have a coffee/witness-fest in 4 years!

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    3. Speaking of no kidding...the person I found was traveling on a Viking river cruise boat! I'll write the blog post tomorrow. :-)

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