The True Cost of Voting Absentee

As a lifelong American, I wholeheartedly believe that it is our civic duty to vote in as many elections as possible. As a member of Remote Year, I will be voting absentee for the first time in the 2016 Presidential election. At home, I am a registered voter with Travis County in Austin, Texas and have not missed a major election in a decade. I knew that this year would be no different and I would submit my ballot regardless of the process – famous last words.

Note: Each county will vary in timeline and required documents. Below is my personal account of what it really takes to vote absentee in the United States.

Required Materials

  • Scanner
  • Fax machine or $9.99
  • Printer
  • Regular Envelope
  • County Documents
    • Ballot
    • Signature Form
    • Carrier Envelope

Step 1 – Research Absentee Ballot – Early February 2016, 1 hour

A quick Google search of “Travis County absentee voting registration” brought me the right site but it was difficult to pinpoint deadlines for absentee vs. county voters. Eventually, I emailed the office and received the correct information and the registration form.

Step 2 – Register – Late February 2016, 1 hour

In the US, I am registered to vote locally, which is a different process than registering as an absentee. Because I didn’t necessarily realize this up front, I had to do this part while abroad. You may be able to complete this step at home.

Fill out the form online, print, sign, and FAX it back. Since this isn’t 1980 and I don’t have access to a fax machine, I downloaded the free app TinyFax and sent it that way. Note that depending on page length, you may need to buy credits. I paid $9.99 to not think about it anymore. Returning the form by email was not an option.

Step 3 – Understand and Print Ballot – 2 weeks later, 1 hour

My ballot and instructions were delivered via email the day after my registration was received in Texas. Along with the ballot were attachments with instructions for delivery. We’re talking 8 multipart steps with check boxes.

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Step 4 – Vote – Same Day, 30 minutes

Shhhh…my secret. (hint: 🔥🔥)

Step 5 – Prepare Envelopes – Same Day, 2 hours

This step can be easier or harder depending on the availability of resources in your country of residence. Unfortunately, Uruguay does not have a Target-esque store readily available and hunting down the required envelope was an adventure of it’s own. It involved cutting, folding, and taping to get the required size.

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Step 6 – Deliver – Same Day, 30 minutes

In order to use the free postage on the carrier envelope, your ballot must be mailed from within the United States (I’m an absentee, no?) or from the US Embassy. The ONLY thing that went smoothly in this whole process is the convenient fact that the Embassy is a 4-minute walk from my office in Montevideo.

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This is what success looks like. Right at this moment I learned that you cannot take pictures of the US Embassy and was chased away by an armed security guard. Highlight of the experience to say the least.

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All in all, the process took almost 45 days, 7 hours of work, and 3 hours of complaining. Keep in mind that this is only for the Primaries and Steps 3-6 will need to be repeated in November for the General election. Fun!

Implications

While I do not have a legitimate solution to make this process more efficient (online voting, ehh??), I can attest that it’s difficulty has kept the majority of my fellow Remotes from voting for themselves. We’re only 75 people, but according to U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, there are an estimated 8.7 million non-military expatriates living overseas.

Could absentees sway an election? Probably not, but crazier things have happened.

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