On Not Having My Vote Counted

All rights to Google Maps. Taken as I began writing this post at 10:40 AM Seoul time.

We have received your ballot. Unfortunately you are not listed as an overseas voter. Please follow the instructions below as soon as possible.

I received these disheartening words last week by email, from the Boulder County Clerk’s office. They gave me several steps to follow, but warned that I should allow several days for processing of the ballot and my registration. This eleventh-hour confusion began literally 24 hours until the deadline for changes to the voting record in the lead up to this 2012 Election. It was too close for the changes to be registered in time.

Today, I checked my ballot’s status and found that it was not counted.

Listening to election coverage a world away in South Korea on NPR.org, I’m incredibly disappointed.

This election began almost as soon as Obama was elected. I cast my first vote ever for him in the 2008 Election and voted in the mid-term elections that transformed the US Congress into a gridlocked partisan inefficiency machine. I’ve monitored the issues closely and I consider participation in the democratic process fundamental. I am vocal on Twitter about my views, and even though I fall to the far left on the US political spectrum I still want to participate in the electoral process. I had faith in the voting process going into this election.

But my vote was not counted.

This is the form one has to fill out in order to vote from overseas.

In March 2012 I walked across the street to the Post Office in Yeongtong and sent my Federal Post Card Application for an overseas ballot. I’d moved to Korea three weeks earlier, and I knew that voting this November would be a defining part of my year.

As a woman of 25, I feel the heavy weight of politics more than most. I had to move abroad to find employment after college graduation. I was denied insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition. I use hormonal birth control and I believe it should be covered. I plan on taking out federal student loans to fund graduate school. I believe rape is rape, period. I am pro-choice. I am anti-Citizens United.

I believe Wall Street must be better regulated to prevent further economic crisis. I believe those who make the most income must pay higher taxes. I believe marriage must be equal for all citizens regardless of who they love. I believe immigration must open up to the best and brightest who want to come to the United States, and that it should be easier for my English boyfriend to live in the same country as me.

I believe drones are illegal and immoral. I believe climate change is real. I believe that the NDAA and increased power to detain citizens forever without trial is unconscionable. I believe that the two-party system in the United States is strangling our representative democracy. I believe the War on Terror and the War on Drugs have failed. I believe separation of church and state should be total. Crucially for Colorado, I believe marijuana should be legalized, regulated, and taxed.

Why this litany of causes and issues? Someone, somewhere needs to hear my voice.

I woke up early this morning, too excited about the election results to sleep in. I’m following it on NPR, Twitter, Google, Telemundo, Le Monde, and Al Jazeera. I’ve done my research. I’m a model voter, if I do say so myself.

But my vote was not counted.

All rights to Google Maps. Taken at 11:20 AM Seoul Time.

As soon as I realized my registration had failed, I filled out an emergency ballot downloaded from govotecolorado.com. I sent it via express air mail at a cost of $15 out of pocket. I feel that I did everything in my power to vote and have my voice heard, and yet for all my preparation and my desire to participate in the democratic process, I was blocked from it.

I can take commiserative comfort in the fact that I am not alone. Thousands of ballots in Colorado have been rejected for various reasons. Voter suppression tactics and outright fraud by groups like True the Vote and faulty machines have probably influenced the election. Super PACS and the massive influx of money from corporations in this election have tried to buy the election. (If you haven’t watched Big Sky, Big Money…watch it right now. Right. Now.) Faced with such problems, I’m tempted to say that my vote would not have made a difference even if it was counted.

And here’s the kicker:

I voted for neither Obama nor Romney.

That’s right. My vote, in the swing state of Colorado, was for neither major party candidate. I found myself incapable of voting for Romney and equally incapable of voting for Obama. I could not reconcile myself with voting for the lesser of two evils, as so many have convinced themselves is necessary in our two party system. To some, my vote for president would never have “counted” anyway. To vote for a third party candidate is tantamount to throwing away one’s ballot, especially in a year with such a close election.

But that’s not true. My vote still mattered, and there is more than just the presidential election at stake. My entire ballot was disqualified, and with it my voice on all the issues at stake.

All right to Google Maps. 12:38 PM Seoul time.

The democratic process is inherently flawed. It’s inherently messy. Votes get lost. People get discouraged. It’s tempting to believe that the democratic process is so broken that there is no point in even trying to participate. It feels so anticlimactic, after four years of campaigns and research and preparation.

My vote was not counted, but this will not stop me. I will continue to speak out on my issues. I will continue to write letters to senators. I will continue to support Planned Parenthood. I will continue to vocally oppose drones. I will find grassroots means to make certain that whatever issues for which I attempted to vote are not lost in the process like my ballot. I still believe that voting is my civic duty, a moral obligation, and that my voice matters. I will protest in the streets if necessary.

Courtesy of the Denver Post—Yes, that’s me in the middle with the sign above my head. November 17, 2011.

My vote was not counted, but this election has helped crystallize my views on the process in a way I could not have hoped for. I learned that I believe in the democratic process and in participatory elections, even in the face of an uncounted ballot.

My vote was not counted, but I will still remember this election for the rest of my days. I’m not a number included in the maps of swing states. I’m not a statistic for pundits to quote.

I’m a voice. I will continue to be heard. I voted. Whether or not it officially counted, it mattered.

EDIT: This post was made on 7th November 2012. My ballot eventually arrived, more than THREE MONTHS AFTER the election in January 2013. To say I was disappointed with the services of the Boulder County Clerk’s office is an understatement; I laughed so loudly and bitterly that my Korean coworkers thought I’d finally snapped. 

Off the Couch and Into the Streets

Courtesy of the Denver Post–Yes, that’s me in the middle with the sign above my head

Today, my support of Occupy Wall Street took a new form.

I’ve supported the movement from its inception, two months ago. Even though I was in France, I kept up with the events on Twitter and through the news. I brought it up (probably a little bit too much) in my French classes. My Twitter account brought me the news that Occupy Oakland was under attack the night of October 25, and I watched in horror as the police department fired tear gas and flash grenades into the crowd. I was moved to tears watching the protesters try to pull Scott Olsen (an Iraq veteran who was injured by a tear gas canister) to safety, only to have another stun grenade thrown into their midst.

The Steps

A mixture of anger, shame, pride, and sadness merged with a desire to do something. I challenge anyone who disagrees with Occupy Wall Street to watch the videos from that night and the other coordinated police actions across the US and across the world, and not feel something. I wouldn’t deign to suggest what you should feel, but you must feel something. If you don’t, something isn’t right.

Lisa, who was on her lunch break to march with us. She kicks ass.

Today I took the advice of Dorli Rainey, the 84-year-old activist who took a faceful of pepper spray at Occupy Seattle on Tuesday night…”Whatever you do, take one more step out of your comfort zone.”

This. Should. Never. Happen.

I joined the protests in person. I was nervous. I’ve never protested before. I was alone. I had my purse with all the money I currently have to my name ($30) in it, and my camera. I am female, and I worried that maybe someone would hassle me. I’m not going to lie, the violence over the past few weeks and the potential to be caught up in a riot were deterrents. I drove around Civic Center Park to check it out, looking for protesters and police. At first, all I saw were police cars. Everywhere. I was intimidated. I hid my sign in my purse and walked through the park, prepared to leave if I didn’t think I could go through with it.

The Capitol

But I walked up to the steps of the City and County Building, about thirty people were gathered. They used the People’s Mic to spread the word about their ideas, grievances, hopes, and stories. The crowd grew, and the more vocal and annoying protesters were calmed by the group.

Then we left to march into the streets.

The March

Into the Streets

The police pulled into the intersection, lights blaring. I was emboldened by the hundred people who had showed up in the half hour we had been at the step, but I worried that a confrontation might break out. We walked directly through the intersections, under the carving on the side of a building declaring, “What is the city, but the People?” The police followed us on bikes and with squad cars, blocking off the streets to prevent us from getting leveled by lunch hour traffic. That was actually pretty nice of them.

I felt apprehensive to walk in the streets, through traffic and scared-looking people trying to get to Chili’s for a lunch meeting. One step further, Coleen. Come on. I stepped off the sidewalk and onto the curb. People in the cars were responding with smiles and honks to my sign, “Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE.”-Martin Luther King Jr. 

We turned onto the 16th Street Mall, marching directly down the middle and stopping traffic. Our shouting bounced off the buildings and people moved out of the way, taking pictures, sometimes cheering. Everyone was on their lunch break. The Mall Ride busses were forced to stop in their tracks, a hundred of us blocking their way.

People in suits, watching us march past on the 16th street mall

Dude, quit ruining my photo!!

I still felt nervous, but I was beginning to get stronger. There was a giddy, light, happy feeling to taking the streets. I felt proud of us, connected, and proud that I live in a country that (at least for the moment) allows peaceful protest.

A woman in front of me leaned over to a police officer.

“Feeding the hungry is not a crime! Not a crime…” she said, walking away.

“Your ass is a crime,” the officer joked to his colleagues, obviously thinking that no one was listening.

“Dude, really?” I rounded on him, my best “shame on you” teacher voice and expression confronted with a doughy, and rather surprised-looking young officer. “That was totally inappropriate.” He seemed frozen. I made a noise of disgust and kept walking.

Um, holy shit. Did I just scold a uniformed police officer? One step further. The nerves were gone.

“Who’s streets? Our streets!”

By the time we reached the Federal Reserve Building, I felt liberated. That sounds cheesy and contrived, but it’s true. I was no longer quiet. I felt connected to the people around me, the hippies with dreads and guitars, the kids in business suits, the parents with their babies in strollers, the people walking their dogs amongst us, hell…even the giant transvestite in leopard print. We all had different reasons for being there. We all had different ideas. But we shared the megaphone. We clapped and cheered. We respected the stories. We even cracked jokes and laughed together.

Sharing, playing, dancing, singing, learning. It was kind of like kindergarten, but all grown up. That gives me hope.

Mirrored perspective of the Denver Post

We walked back through the mall and up 17th street, through the financial district of Denver. People came out of the bank buildings, making videos on their phones. They leaned out of offices and apartment buildings. I smiled to them and waved. Hardly anyone waved back. Again, our chants bounced off the cold glass.

“We are…Occupy Denver!” “We are…Occupy Detroit!” “We are…Occupy New York!” “We are…Occupy Melbourne!” “We are…Occupy Oakland!” “We are…Occupy Seattle!” “We are…Occupy Cal!” “We are…Occupy Everywhere! And we aren’t going anywhere!”

We walked through one of the largest intersections in Denver at Colfax and Broadway, to loud cheers and honking from the cars stopped by our progress. The gold of the Capitol Building shone in the sun as we marched across the park, and back to the City and County Building. We addressed Mayor Hancock directly, and I could see people watching from inside. We filed the paperwork necessary to begin recalling him from office following the violent crackdown on protestors in Denver.

Very rarely have I felt the sense of community that I felt today with complete strangers at Occupy Denver. They were so welcoming. They all watched out for each other. They all shared and were respectful, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age (which unfortunately could not be said for that dummy officer who made the ass comment). There was a pervasive sense of collective goodwill, and the desire to work together to change things.

We didn’t always agree. We certainly didn’t speak with only one voice, even through the People’s Mic. We chose to act together, in unity as individuals drawn together by a least a bit of common ground. I felt empowered.

It was amazing!! 

After we announced our recall of Mayor Hancock and the City and County building shut its doors in our face, I walked away. It was time for this occupier to go to her new job. I slipped away, drawing a few snarky laughs as I walked back to my car. I didn’t care. I walked down the middle of Broadway armed with nothing but a piece of posterboard and  a camera. Laughing doesn’t phase me.

But this did.

A few blocks away.

Two blocks from the City and County Building, I walked past this staging area for the Denver PD riot squad. As I came around the corner, one of them was messing around with a pepper ball gun, and practicing aiming it. For just an instant, it looked like it was aimed at me. My blood went cold.

I was nervous again. I no longer had a hundred fellows around me for support. One step further.

I took their picture. Several times. In the open. I rationalized, “I’m near the art museum. I could pretend to be a tourist if they have a problem.” I tweeted to Occupy Denver the intersection, and within minutes another protester had arrived. The police looked over at me. I calmly turned and walked away.

This is not over. It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are. This is not about politics. I learned today that the Occupy movement is incredibly welcoming. They accept people as they are, and are happy to have healthy debate. They encourage others to join in. Just check it out for yourself. Take one step further than your worries, your nerves, or your fear. Go see it for yourself! You are welcome anytime!

Get off your couches! Democracy is not a spectator sport!