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Absentee Ballots!

I voted from Rwanda! The other day I printed, signed, scanned, and emailed my ballot in via the Federal Voter Assistance Program (FVAP), tracking my ballot’s progress every day via Oklahoma’s online voter portal. Finally, nearly a week after sending the email, I received an email back from FVAP confirming they had printed the ballot and forwarded it on to Oklahoma via fax, and confirmed in Oklahoma’s online voter portal that it had been received. I could breathe a sigh of relief.

But my experience voting from abroad shows that all is not well in American democracy.

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Tracking my ballot through Oklahoma’s online voter portal

For starters, relief is not an emotion one should feel after casting one’s ballot. I’ve worked overseas for the last nine years. This is my fourth time voting using FVAP, but the first where I’ve had doubts over whether my ballot would be counted. For over a week I dithered over whether to use FVAP or physically mail my ballot from the embassy, due to lingering fears that my faxed-in ballot might not be counted — that Trump might have hijacked FVAP, that Oklahoma could have secretly changed its laws at the last minute to disallow ballots sent via FVAP, or that a Trump sympathizer in the county election office might transfer my ballot from the fax machine to the trash. …

In the world of Game of Thrones, words are wind, and power is power. But in a democracy, words matter.

Why do people follow laws, and not whatever they want, or whatever the local “big man” tells them? Why, in the United States, can a powerful Senator not order their staff to cut a rival’s throat (or, for that matter, to “stop, I’ve changed my mind, step back three paces, turn around, close your eyes”) and have them obey?

Because in a democracy, we believe in the idea that people do not owe their allegiance to the master they serve. We do not swear oaths of fealty to a lord or lady or party, but swear only to abide by the laws that we as a nation have agreed to live by. …

Why do we send text messages (via Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, etc) to the people who are sitting directly across from us at work (or at least we did before the pandemic)? Or when we have a quick but urgent question (i.e. we’re at the grocery store and need to ask someone what to buy) — why do we still send that message instead of just calling, when we know the person we’re asking may not see the message before we need to make a decision?

Have you ever noticed how sometimes a work conversation that would take 10 minutes in-person can drag on for hours on a messaging app or comments thread — and in the meantime, you didn’t get anything else done on the things you meant to be working on because you were constantly going back and forth between your messages and that other work? …


Andrew Kent

Born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, working on solar energy and rural electrification in Africa, BA in Social Studies from Harvard

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