Last night on the news I saw Governor Cuomo announce that anyone displaced by Superstorm Sandy could vote via affidavit at ANY polling place in New York State. People in a federally declared disaster area should not be prevented from voting. Granted, he did not say that if you were displaced outside of New York you could vote but I thought I would give it a try. So I wrote a letter to the County of Manatee Supervisor of Elections, Bob Sweat, stating that I was a resident of a federal disaster area and that I would fill out a Florida provisional ballot and asked him if he would send my ballot to my New York City Board of Election. Then I took that letter along with copies of my ID and I went off to the polls.
I had done my research the night before. Even though Florida requires you to have a state issued photo ID you cannot be turned away from voting if you do not have an ID. Anyone without a Florida ID who requests a provisional ballot must be given one and be allowed to vote. These provisional votes are not counted until two days after the election and there is follow up – you are sent a letter stating if your vote counted or not.
The nearest poling place to where I am in Florida is at the clubhouse of a retirement community. When I walked in and asked for a provisional ballot the entire room, full of voting people and pollsters, got silent. I think I even heard a gasp as the sweet looking senior citizens around me frowned and one even shook his head in disgust. I was taken to a special table so that I could “tell my story” to the supervisor of the polling locale, Margaret.
After about 5 minutes of waiting, Margaret finally sat down across from me, a stern look on her face. I asked her for a provisional ballot. I told her I was from New York City. She said that she first had to place a phone call to see if it was OK.
When Margaret got on the phone I heard her say, “There’s a lady here from New York here who want’s a provisional ballot. Now I remember they told us at training that provisional ballots won’t count but that we should just give them out to make people happy. I’m just making sure that’s what I should do.” Yes, that is exactly what she said. Isn’t it great to hear that good old Florida voting laws are being carried out to the tee?
Margaret hung up the phone, came over, sat down and point blank told me my vote wouldn’t count so she wouldn’t take it. I insisted. She took me over to the voter registration machine and had me try to enter my information. Now I knew this wasn’t’ going to work – the Florida machine certainly would not accept a New York City address. I think she wanted to do this so that I would go away. But I had made it this far – heck, I survived Sandy – so I stood my ground.
After 10 minutes of trying to get the machine to accept “New York” as a city address in Florida I informed Margaret that I knew that Florida state law says that ANYONE who comes into a polling place without an ID must be given a provisional ballot. She turned her eyes on me and a stare-down ensued. Gotcha, Margie! You’re the supervisor and I know you know that!
Margaret told me to sit down again and got back on the phone. After 5 minutes (she claimed she was talking to Bob Sweat, supervisor of elections himself) she came back. “OK, she said, I’ll let you fill out a provisional ballot. But it’s not going to count!”
She gave me a pink envelope and asked me to fill out my name, address, etc. There was a section for voter comments and I put down “displaced voter from federal disaster area New York City”. She then gave me a paper ballot. I carefully filled in the oval next to OBAMA/BIDEN. Margaret was now about 5 feet from where I was sitting. She called out in a LOUD voice so that everyone in the place could hear, “Now fold and put your ballot in the secret folder!” There was a white folder in front of me marked “Secret”. I did as she instructed and slipped in the letter I had written to Bob Sweat as well as copies of my NY State Drivers license and other photo ID that I had copied. She then said “Put the secret folder inside the pink envelope and seal it.” I did and she gave me the receipt off the envelope, which had a number on it. Then she walked me over to a black lock box, unlocked the box and slipped the envelope inside.
“Thank you so much, Margaret”, I oozed. “Oh”, she replied, “don’t forget your I Voted sticker” and handed me a sticker with an American flag on it.
I slapped that sticker on my chest and marched out.
Now I think I’ll write a letter to Governor Cuomo and let him know that Bob Sweat has my vote and that he should call him up and demand that it be sent to New York City.
-Aphra “I Voted” Behn