Voting Rights

I apologize for going way, way off-topic on a food and cooking blog, but there’s been something going on the for last few days that I need to address in a longer form than a tweet, so here we go.

My rights as a voter in the Commonwealth of Virginia are being violated, and I won’t stand for it.

Over the summer, knowing that I was scheduled to attend a conference out of town on Election Day, I registered to vote absentee. My ballot came postmarked September 21st. By that point I had lost my job and would no longer be at that conference. I prefer to vote in person, and so I decided to mail my ballot back untouched, per instructions on the ballot, in order to vote at my precinct.

Look at Paragraph 1. If you can’t read it, here it is verbatim. All capitalization and emphasis in the original.

BEFORE VOTING: 1. IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO VOTE BY ABSENTEE BALLOT, do NOT open Envelope A [BALLOT WITHIN]. Return it unopened in the pre-addressed envelope to be received by the Secretary of the Electoral Board on or before election day. You will not be eligible to vote at your precinct polling place unless your unused ballot has been returned by election day.

I did this, exactly, one day last week. Another piece of paper (which I have since lost, or perhaps mailed back with the ballot), advised me to call to make sure my ballot was received. On Wednesday I called the Virginia State Board of Elections to do this. They told me to call my local board. For me, this is the Office of the General Registrar for the City of Richmond. I called this office Thursday and was told by two different staffers that because I had mailed my ballot back, I could no longer vote in person. It did not matter that my ballot was blank, because they would not be able to look at it until Election Day. Both of these women told me that I had lost my opportunity to vote. I ended that phone call shaking with rage.

On the advice of a friend, I contacted the Richmond Times-Dispatch and a lawyer with Organizing for America yesterday. (Neither of these has panned out yet.) I called my Congressman, Rep. Bobby Scott, whose office deferred to the State Board of Elections. I called the SBE again. This time I was told that while I had mailed my ballot back correctly, the only way I could vote was with that ballot, so I needed to “work with” the General Registrar. No advice was given on how to work with them. I was specifically and repeatedly denied access to a provisional ballot. I called the General Registrar and spoke to a Ms. Russell. I read her the instructions from the absentee ballot and was told I “misunderstood” them. Ms. Russell told me I would be able to vote, but the only way I could do so was by going to her office and voting in person. When I pointed out that this violates my right not to be forced into missing work to vote, she did not have an answer for me. I am currently waiting for a call from a Ms. Alice Calhoun at the General Registrar to sort this out further.

Here’s the thing. The information I received in writing from the SBE is one hundred percent correct. The information I received by phone from both the SBE and the General Registrar is false and in violation of the Code of Virginia. Period. End of story.

The Code of Virginia states the following with regard to absentee ballots (emphasis mine):

 If for any reason a person, who has applied for and received a ballot, decides not to vote absentee, he shall return the ballot unopened, in the sealed envelope in which it was sent to him, to the electoral board, on or before the day of the election in which the ballot was intended to be used.

The electoral board shall note on the absentee voter applicant list, opposite the name of the person returning the ballot, the fact that the ballot was returned unused and the date of the return. The electoral board shall carefully preserve all ballots returned unused and deliver them, together with other returned ballots, to the officers of election on election day. A voter who has returned his unused ballot as provided herein shall be entitled to cast a provisional ballot pursuant to § 24.2-653.1 in person on election day at his proper polling place or at a central absentee voter precinct established by the governing body of the county or city where the person is registered to vote. However, a voter who returns his unused ballot to his proper polling place or central absentee voter precinct on election day shall be entitled to vote a regular ballot, and his unused ballot shall be preserved with other unused ballots.

Source: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-708

I am entitled to cast a provisional ballot at my usual and correct polling place on Tuesday, November 6. This is my one and only demand, and I will settle for nothing less. I call upon Representative Bobby Scott, US Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb, Delegate Jennifer McClellan, and State Senator Don McEachin to support me in this endeavor, and for the State Board of Elections and the Richmond General Registrar to allow me my provisional ballot.

I will continue to reach out to local and national media to bring attention to this egregious error. I need to emphasize that I DO NOT want to do this. I like my own little dark quiet corner of the world and I want nothing more than to hang out with my friends, watch my nephews grow up, become a social worker, and nurture a lovely new relationship that’s just come into my life. But I will not let my voting rights be cast aside. I’m the daughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants. My family have always been fighters. And now, I am too.

Some of my friends have begun a Twitter campaign to get some national attention. Follow us at #lethervote. And Maddow, if you’re listening? Call me.

(PS: To get ahold of me, tweet me @bugpaste. Or email that handle at gmail dot com.)

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