I have dual citizenship in the USA and Germany but never voted in the US, partially because the last time I lived there was during my kindergarten years. Additionally, I was under the impression that the country was doing fine and would not vote for someone completely unqualified. I was wrong. So the 2018 midterm election is the first time I ever voted in the US, and I am sharing my experience and how it compares to voting in Germany.
My experience of voting in the US summed up
→ Voting in the USA requires a high level of motivation (requires a lot of time and is highly inconvenient)
→ The voting process has me asking if it is not encouraged (why else would it be so hard?)
The process that shaped my experience:
#1 The 6-week obstacle: voter registration
Come voting time, the citizens of Germany receive their voting information along with detailed instructions on when and how to vote and what to do if they cannot make it to the polls on voting day. They receive this information as a letter in their mailbox. As a first-time registered voter in the US, I had to make them aware of me and my address. I had no idea how painful this process could become.
- Week 33 (mid-August), 2018: I visit https://www.usa.gov/absentee-voting – get discouraged as I must register in a specific state. Which state should I choose? The one I lived in while in kindergarten? Surely not!Could I choose the wrong voting residence? What would happen if I did? While the page provides several sources of information, I could not find a satisfactory answer for my edge case (overseas voter, not embedded within a US community such as a military community e.g.) – I give up.
- Week 34, 2018: I spot a booth from votefromabroad.com in my city and am overjoyed, and my questions answered! I registered via the website https://www.votefromabroad.org/vote/home.htm and email it to the county office.
- Week 35, 2018: nothing happens
- Week 36, 2018: nothing happens
- Week 37, 2018: Check my registration status – not registered
- Week 38, 2018: Attend a local meet-up of Democrats Abroad. They recommend I have my registration confirmed by the county. I do this via email. Nothing happens. I am getting frustrated.
- Week 39, 2018: Write a follow-up email to the registrar’s office with my voter registration attached – this time I elaborate on my problem and ask for alternative solutions in case I had not registered correctly. THEN! EUREKA! I receive an answer and a website link from the county where I can register. I have no idea what was wrong before: registering over a different website or sending the registration form via mail, but Y’ALL- I did not care at this point! I was registered to vote!
A six-week process in which I registered twice and sent two follow-up emails is too much effort. I do not even want to guess how many journeys of people eligible to vote end during this process. One needs time and persistence to achieve something that happens automatically in other countries.
#2 More hoops to jump through: Voting
I received my online voting link a few days later. This victory was energizing! I also had a personal contact at the registrar’s office, who was very helpful and explained my options: send a ballot via mail or fax. I mistrust both systems. May the following image speak for why I am suspicious of the US postal system:
Fax machines: I know OF fax machines. I have sent digital faxes but always confirm their arrival in calls. Nevertheless, I decided to fax the documents.
My contact informed me that my fax had only made it partially. I tried sending it again – three times from three separate machines (one being an actual fax machine). Each failed. The fax number was not working. My contact advised me to send the documents via postal service.
I had two options. Send them via the US postal service as a registered letter or courier. The cost difference was about 40€ /$46. When asked about the difference in service the German post office employee replied along the lines of “…one is with a courier from us (DHL). It will be delivered personally. The other is with the US postal service, which prides itself in being affordable but is not the most reliable“.
As I did not want to spend 40€ I reluctantly decided to send the documents as a registered letter, knowing the US postal service was part of that deal. Everything else seemed too over the top. With that, I had succeeded in sending off my ballot by mid-October. My voting process took two months.
The impression I have after this experience is that voting in the US is an unreliable, nontransparent, highly inconvenient process. The current reports on voter fraud, suppression, and purge give me the impression that the process is designed that way. The process is hard to trust, which has consequences.
While my contact at the registrar’s office informed me that my ballot had arrived, my tracking number said my registered letter was still on its way to its destination. Who would you believe?
A question I was never able to answer though was: when do I get my sticker? #powertothepeople