Monday, November 30, 2015

Absentee Ballot? Nonexistent is More Like It

One family's right to vote gets squelched.

Absentee Ballot? Nonexistent is More Like It


Alice Farley and her daughter, Eizabeth, knew they’d be out of town on Nov. 6th, Election Day. Alice, a landscape architect, would be en route to Virginia, to speak at a conference. Elizabeth had recently taken a job in New York City and wouldn’t be able to travel home to Chestnut Hill to cast her vote.

  So in early October, mother and daughter applied for absentee ballots – Alice applied online, Elizabeth by mail. They figured they’d receive their ballots in plenty of time to meet the absentee-vote filing deadline of Nov. 2nd at 5pm.

  Days ticked by, then weeks, but no ballots arrived. Alice called the city’s Board of Elections for help – many times, she says – but no one ever answered the phone. By last Monday, Oct. 29, she was in a full-blown panic . She contacted Ellen Mattleman Kaplan of the Committee of Seventy, who put her in touch with city commissioner Stephanie Singer.

  Last week, Singer advised Alice to come in person to City Hall to cast her absentee ballot, and advised that Alice’s daughter, Elizabeth, should e-mail commission staffer Carmelo Seminara for a replacement ballot "as soon as possible." 

How Elizabeth was supposed to obtain a new ballot, fill it out and get it back to City Hall in the space of five days is anyone's guess. 

  Alice’s ballot finally arrived yesterday, Nov. 5th - three days past the deadline for absentee votes "so it does me no good," she says. Furious, she rescheduled her early-morning flight today to Virginia and now plans to vote, in person, on her way to the airport for the later journey.

"I'm lucky that I can afford [the cost of rescheduling]," says Alice. "What about people who don't have the money?" 

At least Alice will get to vote. Not so her daughter Elizabeth, whose ballot never arrived. So she has been shut out of an act of democracy considered so sacred in this country that we willingly put our troops in harm's way, overseas, to guarantee that those in other nations may cast their own ballots. 

  "I am furious," says Alice. "This is outrageous. No one should have the power to obstruct the vote. But who do I blame? The Board of Elections? The post office? No one will take responsibility. Someone needs to be held accountable. I just don't know who."

Multiple calls to the commissioners for comment were met with busy signals - no surprise, given that it's Election day. But Singer wrote, in a follow-up to Kaplan about the problems Alice and Elizabeth were having, "We are hoping that the Governor will extend the absentee ballot deadlines."

Daily News Columnist
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When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

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