“It’s sealed? We’ll have to unseal it.”
My eyebrows furrow. Did I understand her correctly?
“Oh, okay. But it’s my vote.” I reply, trying to make sure nothing goes amiss.
She pulls out a box cutter, and slides the blade underneath the sealed envelope flap.
“All international postage needs to be inspected,” she explains.
The cutter opens the manila envelope and out slides a white unaddressed sealed envelope.
“But that one can’t be opened. Because it’s my vote. It’s my first time, so I didn’t know.”
I’m nervous. It’s my first time voting from outside the United States, and I want to make sure I do everything right.
She holds the white envelope up to the light and runs her fingers across the surface.
My husband notices and interjects, “I imagine it’s similar to Mexico’s laws. The vote has to be confidential. Even I haven’t seen it.”
The post worker nods her head. She slides the white sealed envelope back into the larger manila envelope addressed to “SUMNER COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION.”
She re-seals the envelope with packaging tape and asks if I want priority or economy post. I choose economy, and pay the $22 fee. She guarantees delivery within four days and hands me my receipt with the tracking number.
Now all I can do is trust the mail system will deliver my vote to Sumner County in Gallatin, Tennessee. From there, I have a Sumner Election Commission website I can visit to check if my vote was received and accepted.
Because I am voting by mail, there is a two-step process. The first is to say that my vote was received. The second is to confirm that my vote actually counts. If I filled out the paperwork incorrectly or if the envelope looks tampered with or my signatures don’t match, my vote can be thrown out.
This is my 5th US presidential election, but my first from outside the US. I wasn’t sure how it would work, and I wasn’t sure exactly what forms needed to be filled out.
Here’s how my vote took place this year:
There exists a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which can be printed, signed, and mailed to your local election office to request an absentee ballot.
While that seems simple enough, that meant I had to locate the application, download, print, fill it out, and then get to the mail. But where should I mail it? I got stalled in this step, because I wasn’t sure how to locate the correct address to request the ballot in the first place. I put it off for another day. And then another week.
Finally, it was August, and I hadn’t requested my absentee ballot. I began wondering, “At this point, was it even worth it?”
What if they didn’t get the request on time? And then they had to mail it back to me in Mexico? It all seemed a bit too dependent on mail in the digital age.
And then my answer arrived. Votefromabroad.org. I don’t have any affiliation with this site, except for the fact that they streamlined my voting process. Because of this godsend in the technolagy age, I filled out my information in form fields which were then correctly inputted onto the FPCA, which was then sent automatically to my correct jurisdiction by email.
I didn’t have to look up the address, because it was already in their system.
Of course, in order for my emailed absentee ballot request to be official, I had to include my signature. This step may have taken the longest because I had to sign my signature on a white sheet, snap a photo, and then upload the photo to the form. I had to upload my signature twice, because the first one wasn’t quite straight and went off the designated signature line. So, maybe 20 minutes in all.
I started and finished the process on August 29. The next day, my wonderful Election Deputy Becky Shields emailed me the confirmation that she had received my request and that my ballot would be emailed to me in mid-September.
On September 11, 2020, I received my absentee ballot. I downloaded and printed it at home. Finally, on October 12, 2020, I filled out the ballot at home, which involved circling my choices. The entire five pages of ballots was folded and placed inside a plain unmarked white envelope and sealed. Then, I had to fill out the Voter Affidavit.
Basically, the Voter Affidavit has me swear and affirm that: “In voting, I have marked and sealed my ballot in private and have not allowed any person to observe the marking of the ballot. I have not been influenced.”
The same day, my ballot was sent.
Now, I wait to make sure that it arrives and is accepted. The time, effort, and money spent on making sure I cast my vote this election year was worth it.
No matter where you are, who you are, or the challenges placed in front of us, make sure you get out and vote this 2020 US election.
As early voting has already begun in many states, I am encouraged by so many who have made a plan and have made sure they were eligible to cast their vote.
Even though there are many flaws to our US democracy, by ensuring we use our right to vote, we are taking one important step to ensure our voices are heard.
Make a plan. Do your part. Vote.