I have dual citizenship in the USA and Germany but never voted in the US, partially because the last time I lived there was when I was in kindergarten but also because I was under the impression that the country had it covered and would not vote for someone completely unqualified. I was wrong. So this midterm election is the first time I ever voted in the US and I am sharing #myexperience and how it compares to voting in Germany.
#myexperience summed up
Voting in the US:
→ requires a high level of motivation (requires a lot of time and is highly inconvenient)
→ has me asking if it is not encouraged by the country itself (why else would it be so hard?)
#What shaped my experience
#1 The 6-week obstacle: voter registration
When it’s time to vote German citizens receive their voting information along with detailed instructions on when and how to vote and what to do if you cannot make it to the polls on voting day as a letter in their mailbox. This happens automatically. They can receive this letter because each German citizen is registered under an address. For US citizens this is unthinkable because – I guess – it would be considered too much control by the state, unfree or highly bureaucratic. And while this might be the case it saves me from the pain of US voter registration.
Week 33, 2018: Visit https://www.usa.gov/absentee-voting – get discouraged as I am unsure that I was to choose the state that I last lived in when I was 4 years old as my voting residence. Could I choose the wrong voting residence? What would happen if I did? While the page links to several sources of information I could not find a satisfactory answer for my edge case (overseas voter, not embedded within a US community such a military community i.e.) – I end the registration process
Week 34, 2018: Spot a booth from votefromabroad.com in my city. Overjoyed! Question answered! I registered via the website https://www.votefromabroad.org/vote/home.htm and send my registration form via email 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: Go to a meeting of Democrats Abroad and am advised to check back with the county to confirm my registration was received. Do this via email. Nothing happens. I start to wonder: is this barrier intentional?
Week 39, 2018: Write another email to the registrar office with my voter registration attached – this time I elaborate on my problem and ask for alternative solutions if my current way of trying to get registered to vote was not correct. THEN! HEUREKA! I receive an answer that I can register – this time at a different website directly from the county. 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 to the registrar office to ensure my ballot was received is simply too much effort just to register to vote. I do not even want to guess how many journeys of people eligible to vote end during this process. One needs the time and persistence to achieve something that happens automatically in other countries.
#2 More hoops to jump through: Voting
After receiving my online voting link a few days after my successful registration I was energized due to my victory! I also had a personal contact at the registrar office, who was very helpful and explained the options I had: send ballot via mail or send ballot via fax. I mistrust both systems. May this following image speak for why I mistrust the US postal system:
Fax machines: I know OF fax machines but I do not use them. I can send digital faxes but I am always unsure if they actually arrive and often call up to ask if it actually arrived. Nevertheless, I ended up faxing the documents. Luckily my contact informed me that my fax had only made it partially. I tried sending it again – three times from three different machines (one being an actual fax machine), each failed to go through. The fax number was not working. My contact advised sending the documents via mail.
Reluctantly I sent my voting documents via US mail. The German postman asked if I wanted to send it as a registered letter or via courier. The difference being more than 40€ /$46 in cost. When asking what the difference was the post office employee answered along the lines of “… well…..one is with a courier from us (DHL) and it will be delivered personally. The other is with the US post office, which prides itself in being so affordable but is simply not the most reliable service.”
I still decided to send the documents in a registered letter thinking: If it fails to get delivered I can still try the fax number again because I still have time.
It is now mid-October. The impression I have after this experience is that voting in the US is unreliable, nontransparent, highly inconvenient process and – when I calculate in the current reports on voter fraud, suppression, and purge – it is meant to be that way. It is a trust issue and so it is a natural consequence that I ask: ”who do I believe” when my contact at the registrar office informed me this week that my ballots were received and registered, while my tracking number says my registered letter still has not been delivered. Who would you believe? And… when do I get my sticker? #freedom
credits for title image: Parker Johnson on Unsplash