Sunday, November 02, 2008

Was My Franchise Violated?

This is the question on my mind at this hour, and the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to believe that it was. On Saturday, I decided I would go out and take advantage of the early voting that is allowed by my state of residence, and the closing experience has me in a none too good space.

Early voting is implemented as a mass absentee ballot collecting operation wherein the voter passes through several stations. The first is the application for the ballot itself. The second is the verification of identity and matching you up with your precinct. At the third station the precinct appropriate ballot is retrieved and passed off to the fourth station where the ballot is folded to fit into an absentee envelope affixed with a tracking sticker. The voter is given the ballot and escorted to a small cubicle where the ballot is filled out. Once the ballot is complete, the voter is supposed to hand the ballot off to an exit station, which is my point of contention.

It was not communicated to me that the exit station did anything other than receive the ballot. I read the instructions on the ballot, completed the ballot, and double-checked my work. I prepared to sign the line on the envelope when I noticed the language adjacent to the line: the signer was swearing that he or she had completed the ballot therein, sealed the envelope, and that no one else had seen its contents. Noting this, I went ahead and placed the ballot in the envelope as it had been folded, sealed it, and then signed and dated it.

The exit station was positioned next to the voting cubicles, a panel of two or three people seated next to one another in plain view. As I submitted my ballot to one of the men at the exit station, he looked at me like I had made a horrible error. He told me I shouldn't have put the ballot in the envelope and sealed it because now he couldn't verify whether the ballot has been properly filled out.

Moreover, he said, there was no way to correct this because the envelope had been sealed. I pointed out that the language on the envelope, to which I signed my name, clearly stated that no one else was supposed to see it, but he would not acknowledge the validity of my point. He took the ballot, and assuming that it gets processed, it should be counted because I am well familiar with the fill-in-the-oval ballots they have used in this county since 2002.

The experience left me with a feeling of violation. I can understand why they might have people scanning over the ballots to make sure that there are no over- or under-votes, but to me having another human being do it is a violation of my franchise. The ballot is secret. That's why they have cubicles and why the old lever machines had curtains. In a normal polling place, the validity of a ballot is checked by a machine which knows nothing about how I look or what I am wearing, let alone my mailing address.

I mentioned my experience to others who agreed that something wasn't right. So I did some digging in the state laws and turned up the section of state election law pertaining to paper ballots, IC 3-11-11. The relevant section is quoted below (emphasis mine)

IC 3-11-11-9
Voting to be private; rights of voter in casting vote
Sec. 9. (a) A voter shall mark all ballots while screened from observation. The exterior of a voting booth or compartment and each area of the polls must be in plain view of the precinct election board. Each voting booth or compartment shall be placed so that a person voting on the opposite side of the railing or a person on the outside of the polls cannot see or determine how a voter votes. The inspector, judges, and poll clerks may not remain or allow any other person to remain in a position or near a position that would permit them to see or ascertain how a voter votes.

(b) As provided by 42 U.S.C. 15481, a voter casting a paper ballot under this section must be:

(1) permitted to verify in a private and independent manner the votes selected by the voter before the ballot is cast and counted;

(2) provided with the opportunity to change the ballot or correct any error in a private and independent manner before the ballot is cast and counted, including the opportunity to receive a replacement ballot if the voter is otherwise unable to change or correct the ballot; and

(3) notified before the ballot is cast regarding the effect of casting multiple votes for the office and provided an opportunity to correct the ballot before the ballot is cast and counted.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that a hostile man sitting in plain view of other people waiting to have their ballots checked by other staff clearly fails the tests of privacy and independence for ballot verification, and his additional spiel about not being able to replace the ballot anyway just adds insult to injury.

I plan to contact the ACLU-IN on Monday morning to make them aware of this.
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