Saturday, 10 July 2010

Black Ink or Number Two Pencil: Alaska Style

I can still make out the chisel marks around our mail slot. An earlier incarnation must have been widened. Perhaps, this was done to make it easier to slip A4 envelopes through without folding and bending their contents. Not that that has kept Royal Mail from bending incoming envelopes.  No matter the dimensions of our mail slot, the postie still has to carry a couple of postcodes worth of mail in a bag the size of my backpack.

The guy downstairs runs a successful business, so our mail slot does more than its fair share of opening and closing. Particularly since the English will drive across town to slip a payment through someone's door, rather than pay the price of a second class stamp.

A second class stamp here guarantees delivery within three days for a mere 32 pence. That is 48 cents US. For another 9 pence, you can have your letter or check or postcard delivered the next day. That's a mere 61 cents for next day delivery. Yet people insist on using at least that much petrol to avoid paying out for a stamp. I find it a wonder that Royal Mail manages this. After all, it used to take three days for me to get a letter across town when I lived in Indiana, and it took three days for a letter to leave the state when I lived in Alaska. I never thought either of those was poor service.

International mail is a bit trickier. Not, as it might seem reasonable to assume, because of either postal system, but because of customs. It can take days, moments, or months for an envelope to clear customs. I always find it a relief when my absentee voter ballots manage to make it onto the mat just inside the front door. They've never failed to arrive within a week of being mailed. Perhaps, absentee ballots get a special dispensation from HM Revenue and Customs. Maybe there is a treaty of some sort. I like to think that neither of these things is true. I like to think the folks who spend their days protecting the country from insidious plants, counterfeit drugs, and laundered cash, see the Alaska Elections emblem on my ballot and rush it towards me. I want to believe that they see democracy in action and want to make sure I get my chance to mark my ballot in time to return it to Alaska.

This year's primary ballot arrived a week and a half ago--a full two months before the primary in question and a month before the last day to register to vote for that election. You can file for an absentee ballot up to ten days before the election. The ballot as usual was mostly empty. It came with a list, on cheap blue copy paper, of the folks who were running for their parties' nominations in a variety of public offices. This is the election in which Sarah Palin would have been expected to defend her governorship had she not stepped down to become a millionaire. Instead, Sean Parnell is hoping to be elected to the office he already holds as governor.

I've filled in my ballot. I've had it signed and dated by a friend who vouches for who I am. The post office employee who I purchased the stamp from told me not to bother taking the envelope outside to put it into the post box. Instead, he slipped it in with the packages and signed-for post. He was looking out for my ballot. I'm grateful because he doesn't know who or what I made my mark next to.

Certainly, he seemed to understand democracy a bit better than the makers of the latest absentee ballot,  who instructed me to fill in my ballot with either a black pen or a number two pencil. Never mind that the early ballots require a write-in vote. So, you write in the name of your candidate and then fill in the circle to its side. They can't be counted by the scanning machines. They must be hand counted if they are to be counted at all. So why would voting in pencil make any sense at all. It seems to me to be tantamount to not voting at all given the ease with which said vote could be changed. If I've voted using bright pink marker, my vote should still be counted. Of course, my vote won't be counted until well after the election. This despite the fact that I've voted two full months in advance.

If you're a US citizen living abroad you can find out how to obtain your ballot here: http://www.fvap.gov/
If you're a US citizen who won't be in your precinct but will be in the country on election day, you can find out how to obtain your own absentee ballot here: http://www.vote411.org/bytopic.php?topicID=10

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