With absentee voting on the rise, USPS drops the ball

No one should have to nag to be able to vote 

By Clay Parlette 

As if this election isn’t already crazy enough, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has disgraced the little sanctity that yet remains in our American democracy by failing to deliver hundreds of absentee ballots in Northwest Ohio. Election data indicates an overall increase in absentee voting participation across the country—and understandably so, as the method makes voting far more practical for just about everyone who is eligible to vote. Yet, even as simple as it may seem to vote by mail, the process is only as good as its weakest link—in this case, the United States Postal Snails. 

In September, I filled out and returned the appropriate paperwork to request an absentee ballot from my home county. Normally, this process is extremely simple and straightforward, as the Board of Elections (BOE) receives the request and mails the ballot to the requested address. This year, however, has proven to be much more convoluted, as the election looms just days away, and I have yet to receive my ballot. Multiple calls to the BOE reveal that, according to official record, my request was indeed received and my ballot sent out as soon as early voting officially kicked off in Ohio, this information only added to my furious wonder: Where the devil is my ballot? 

An I-Team investigation conducted by 13abc Action News in Toledo revealed that more than 400 absentee ballots mailed by several Northwest Ohio county Boards of Elections have mysteriously disappeared at a USPS sort facility in Pontiac, Michigan. According to the report, Ohio elected officials have met with USPS representatives to work out “solutions” to the problem, even as the cause is still under investigation. 

Call it an error or an unlikely scenario, but I see it as unacceptable for a service that literally has one job. I have spoken with several other college students from my hometown who attend other universities across the state. Like me, they are still waiting for their ballots to arrive. It’s a situation that doesn’t only undermine the integrity of the USPS (the singly trusted, lawful courier of official election mail), but our democracy in an important election year. There are many engaged voters who care enough to inquire about the status of their ballot. But for every engaged voter, there is likely at least one apathetic voter that feels no need to make a deal over a missing absentee ballot. My point? No one should ever have to nag to be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote in an election. The fact that I had to make three separate calls to track my ballot exposes the very real possibility that some voters may be forgoing this election—all because the USPS failed to deliver. 

The drama of the Presidential Election aside, there are many important local issues that each vote can largely affect. And assuming I do eventually receive my “reissued ballot” (as the BOE has sent out, again via USPS), time is waning for my completed ballot to slog through the sludgy mess that is the U.S. Mail. Will it make it back before Election Day? Will it even make it at all? As much as I would love to abandon this service in favor of a more trusted carrier like UPS or FedEx, I cannot lawfully do so, per state election law. If it were any other company, they would be expected to answer to the public with real explanations, solutions, and compensation. It will surprise me greatly if this ever actually happens, because, you know, it’s the government. 

You may be able to tell that I have nearly gone postal over this experience. This, however, doesn’t diminish my belief and pride in the freedom of choice that we as Americans cherish. It is my hope that no one else on this campus will have to endure the kind of mess I’ve dealt with, but even if you do, please remember what our country would be like if we didn’t actively participate in our unique democratic process. Respect our heritage and the future of our society, and take a few minutes out of your life to do the most American thing there is to do. It might only be one vote, but it is a vote—and that matters.

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