Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Voting is hard work

It shouldn't be, should it? And actually, it was easy for me. I walked a block, showed my I.D., and touched a touch-screen a few times.

The s.o. was not so lucky. He had registered October 1 (three days before the final deadline), but when he showed up at the polls, his name wasn't in the book.

For the purpose of telling this story, I've decided to reveal more about the s.o. and me. Until now, I've taken pains to avoid giving our exact location, out of fear of stalkers, etc. But stories of voter disenfranchisement are all too often vague and anecdotal. I want this one to be personal and precise.

Here is where we live. We're approximately 90 miles east of Atlanta and 35 miles southeast of Athens. Our county is overwhelmingly poor and black, but Mercer Reynolds, George W. Bush's chief fundraiser and onetime oil bailout buddy, owns a gated community/golf resort/luxury hotel complex on the western edge of the county. The fabulously wealthy people who reside there skew the average income so that the county doesn't qualify for government aid. About twice a year, W. flies in to the county airport and shakes the Reynolds residents down for a couple million dollars. He's very popular there.

Anyway, back to the story. When the s.o.'s name didn't appear on the voter rolls, the officials called the Greene County voter registration office. They found that he was still registered in Athens, where he had lived several years ago. They were very helpful, but they basically told him he'd have to vote there.

That was, as Quentin Tarantino once wrote, "a bold statement." The north side of Athens is a 45-minute drive each way. Imagine if we had day jobs or lacked transportation. Not only that, but we're in a completely different district. The s.o. was to be prevented from voting in several tight local races. His vote would disappear in a sea of other Democratic votes in liberal Athens, rather than potentially making a difference in our rural community.

We walked back to the house, and the s.o. got on the phone with the Georgia Secretary of State's office. He explained the situation, and they told him that the Greene County Library, where he'd registered, would have a record of his name and the date he had registered. They were required to record the name of every person who signed a Declaration of Intent to Vote.

He called the library. The librarian told him they didn't keep any such records--just the number of people who registered.

He called the Secretary of State's office again. The very helpful woman on the other end of the line verified that, indeed, the library was required by law to record the name of every person who registered and the date upon which they did so. To fail to do this was breaking the law. She suggested that the s.o. call back again and verify what the librarian had told him. She also said he should give the librarian her phone number and ask them to give her a call.

He called the library again. He spoke to the same librarian and recounted his conversation with the Secretary of State's office. Suddenly the librarian sounded nervous. "I'm not in charge here," she said hurriedly. "My boss is in charge, but she took the day off."

To make a long story short, the woman at the Secretary of State's office has asked the s.o. to call back next week, when the flurry of activity is over, and she'll walk him through filing a formal complaint against the Greene County Library. Whether they lost the s.o.'s registration or, er, "lost" it (i.e., threw it in the trash, shredded it, or whatever), they are clearly in violation of the law because they eliminated their own paper trail. You simply can't do that. I'm pretty sure vote tampering of this kind is a felony.

And yes, we did drive to Athens, and yes, the s.o. was eventually able to vote (although not for our local races). But he's going to make a lot of noise about this incident. Wouldn't you?