Opinion: Voting in the United States General Election, from Canada (Part 2)

One of the many emails I was sent before November 3rd. Screenshot by Lucy Shellhammer.

To read part 1 of this series on registering and voting in the United States General Election from Canada, click here.

The first Tuesday in November has come and gone, and I am once again writing about my voting experience. And not for no reason: some events took place that were rather unexpected.

To start: my ballot never came. It has either yet to arrive, and I will find it in my mailbox in a week, or it was lost somewhere. Luckily, the U.S. has a backup for when this happens.

It is called the Federal Write-In Ballot, and it is what allows you to vote from outside the United States if you have never resided in the states, or, like me, your ballot did not arrive in time.

Since the first piece I wrote about this, quite a lot has happened: there’s water on the moon, there’s a new Supreme Court Justice, there were fake ballot-return boxes in California, and President Trump got COVID-19. I also received too many emails reminding me about the election, as if I could forget.

While all that was happening, votes were pouring in from across the U.S., with multiple states holding entirely mail-in elections. Mine was one of them.

On October 14th, I received an email from the California Secretary of State, telling me that all the ballots had been sent out. 

By this point, I had already realized something was wrong with my ballot, since my dad’s had already arrived, but this message set off alarm bells in my head: the math simply didn’t add up. If the ballot was sent on that day, there would not be enough time for it to get to me and be sent back. 

What I believe actually happened is there was a problem with my registration, somehow without my knowledge, and that the state of California thinks I live at my voting address. So, if you live in that house in Oakland and you got my ballot: sorry, I’m just as confused as you are. 

Unfortunately, by this time, it was too late to send another Federal Post Card Application, but with all the research I did months ago when initially registering, I knew how to find the Write-In Ballot, so I printed one off.

It was strange. On a normal ballot, you fill in the boxes and everything is laid out nicely for you to come in and do your civil duty. The Write-In is essentially an empty piece of paper.

It has three blank slots labeled Federal Offices, one for “President and Vice President,” “U.S. Senator,” and “U.S. Representative, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner to Congress.” For these slots, you can either write the name of the candidate or their party.

Below that, it says Non-federal Offices, and has several blank lines in three columns: “Office,” “Candidate name,” and “Political Party.” There are more blank lines at the bottom for “Ballot initiatives or other items”.

Now, I’m pretty good at spelling, but suddenly, as I was filling in the boxes, “Joseph” and “Democratic” were the hardest words I have ever had to spell. I was so anxious I would spell something wrong and the ballot would get to California and be rejected. 

In hindsight, I could have just filled out the form in pencil first.

I put the ballot and the information page that came with it in an envelope and mailed it off.

I’m really glad I voted this year. I could have gone into the process thinking that my vote would be unnecessary, since I was voting in both California and  a county that cast 82% of its votes in favour of Biden. 

My dad’s vote was cast in Pennsylvania, a state that has been in a tight race for the past three days. When it flipped from red to blue, my dad texted me all excited, “Looks like they finally counted my vote!!!!” and then Pennsylvania turned out to be the key to Joe Biden’s presidential win.

In Georgia, which is not a swing state like Pennsylvania, the difference is currently just over 7,000 ballots.

If this election has demonstrated anything, it is that every vote counts.