12182018Tue
Last updateFri, 14 Dec 2018 4pm

Underdogs itching to vote in US primaries, but is it a breeze or a headache for absentees?

Interest among Democrats voting in the 2018 U.S. “midterm” elections is surging – not unusual for the party out of power, pundits say, although the “throw ‘em out” trend may be more marked this year.

pg3This increase has been evidenced by soaring Democrat turnout for primaries in blue Illinois – up 300 percent compared to 2014 – and likewise in deep-red Texas, where incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz was moved to predict  that Democrats are going to “crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

“He’s got that right,” chortled Texan and longtime Guadalajara resident Debbie Matthew Rodriguez, demonstrating that the heightened interest applies to absentee voters as well. 2018 is the first time Matthew has absentee-voted in a primary as a Democrat, she said, and 2016 was the first time she voted Democratic in a presidential election. 

She is bucking strong traditions. “My family was very involved in Republican politics and with the Bush family. My mother used to play bridge with Barbara Bush,” she noted. But with a husband and three children born in Mexico, President Donald Trump’s Mexico-bashing appalled her. “There’s a joke that since Trump, public opinion has changed: George Bush Jr. doesn’t have to worry anymore about being considered the worst president ever.”

Matthew’s absentee voting experience this year has not been prohibitively difficult thus far, she said, yet there were hurdles: needing a friend with proper equipment to print and scan her ballot request and primary ballot (which she initiated online at VoteFromAbroad.org) and another friend to take the ballot north of the border for mailing. She got it in just under the wire for Texas’s surprisingly early ballot-request deadline of February 23. The state not only has the first primary in the nation (March 6), but is one of the more restrictive states for absentee voters, who, for example, must snail mail, rather than e-mail or fax, their voted ballots back – except for military members in “hostile fire areas,” who are permitted to fax theirs.

Guadalajara resident Will Prescott, who said he has been absentee voting from Mexico for over ten years, most recently online, does not report any sense of crawling over broken glass this year.

“I voted last night in a ‘Boulder Rural Fire Protection District’ election,” he explained, illustrating that online ballot requests ensure voters receive ballots for every election they are eligible for, even some they don’t care about. 

“Voting has certainly gotten easier since I’ve been here,” he emphasized. “I remember carrying ballots back to the U.S. to be mailed for half a dozen people. One year I voted by fax, and the fax was about five feet long. Now I receive the ballot as a PDF attached to an email. I have a program that lets me fill out the PDF on my computer, including pasting in a scanned copy of my signature, and I returned it by e-mail. The whole process might have taken ten minutes.”

Although Prescott is 72, he is at ease with laptops, scanners and printers. But he pointed out that for absentee voters put off by technology, online voting may not be so effortless. 

Prescott’s home state of Colorado, unlike Texas, is as technically savvy as he is – it is one of the few offering a secure online document transfer system for ballot return. The Colorado primary is June 26 and the state wavers between red and blue – some call it purple – making every vote important and spurring Prescott to participate. 

“I always vote,” he noted.

Cliff Esser, a longtime Guadalajara resident whose home is in the Washington, D.C., area, finds himself a less confident voter than Prescott, although he is strongly motivated. 

“I only hope I live long enough to see Trump out of office,” quips the 77-year-old. 

His voting state, Maryland, is traditionally blue, he said. And besides his precarious hope of reining in Trump in 2018, he finds drama in the effect of Maryland’s election cycle on the state’s long-awaited agreement to put in a light rail system as a means, along with tax breaks, of attracting online retailer Amazon, with 50,000 new, local employees. 

As for the ease of voting absentee, Esser’s experience is mixed. “It seems difficult to get registered and request a ballot, but once you get used to it, it’s not all that difficult.”

Still, he ran into snags. “I filled out the ballot request online, then printed, signed and faxed it, but the official said the fax wasn’t clear. So then I found someone going there who mailed the printed form for me. I wanted to e-mail it in, but I wasn’t sure if I could – the rules can be confusing – and I wasn’t sure I could figure out the scanner, though my wife can. Also, we were both using the same e-mail address and that’s not allowed, so we had to get separate ones.”

Maryland is not among the most absentee-friendly states and only permits absentees to send in their ballots by snail mail, so Esser says the couple will look for another friend traveling north to mail it for them.

“FedEx is too expensive,” he said, and normal Mexican mail takes so long that using it would put him in danger of his vote not being received in time.

However, Guadalajara resident Jude Wallesen, whose voting state is Idaho, a restrictive state for absentees, discovered a way to mail her ballot in reliably and inexpensively when she recently snail mailed her Idaho primary ballot – a guaranteed 21-day service offered by Correos de México, the Mexican postal service, that only cost 45 pesos.

“I’m on a first-name basis with my election official in Idaho. I called her to make sure it arrived and it did,” she said, adding that Mexican post offices offer a faster foreign delivery service for 200 or 300 pesos, although she didn’t want to spend that much.

“My election official sends me stuff by e-mail well in advance. I’ve been doing it about four years and it’s been easy. They seem very organized.” She said she is so satisfied with the system that she hasn’t found it necessary to use an online system, such as www.VoteFromAbroad.org. Her experience suggests that an absentee voter who is sure they are registered and wants to avoid requesting a ballot by e-mail or normal mail may want to phone or e-mail their local election official and ask to receive their blank ballot by e-mail. 

Idaho, like Texas, is a deep-red state so there should be very little drama in Idaho’s 2018 mid-terms. 

However, even in very Republican Texas, where, surprisingly, Democrat Jimmy Carter was the choice in 1976 (probably because he is a southerner) but where many say the 2018 Democratic primary for a Senate seat will be nothing more than an exercise in choosing who loses to incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, a few pundits predict a possible loss for Cruz. 

The Democratic Senate candidate, Beto O’Rourke, “faces extremely long odds in November,” writes Ella Nilsen in Vox, “but Democrats will try to tie Cruz to Trump as much as possible and hope that Trump’s approval rating in the state dips even lower in the coming months.”

At least one local absentee voter is aligned with this view. No matter how disenfranchising the state’s voter regulations, Matthew, raised in Texas, is firm in her intention to vote. 

“I’m going to do it. We’ve got to have a change even if you’re not a hard core Democrat.”

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