My fight for fair play in Florida

Heather Brooke explains her determination to vote in the key battleground state.
Daily Telegraph
3 November 2004

People in Florida have a feeling that the future of the free world rests in their hands. I’m one of the few British people able to vote in the US election as a dual citizen, and I’ve been swept up in the frenzy of voter registration.

My efforts to vote began several months ago, as tensions were reaching fever pitch. My decision to buy a house in Florida meant I could now register in a state where my vote would have maximum effect. Everyone knows that this election – like the last one – could be decided on the Florida poll. I was determined to vote.

Four hurricanes later, the house purchase doesn’t seem such a good idea. But I have received an absentee ballot. In the 2000 election, nearly 100,000 voters, mostly African American and viewed mainly as Democrat, were purged from voting lists, supposedly because they were convicted felons, but investigations revealed that the lists were wildly inaccurate.

I have taken every precaution, knowing the state’s history. When I registered this summer for my new Florida driving licence and voter registration card, I was asked my political party affiliation.

“I’d rather not say,” I told the clerk. “My ballot might be purged.”

She looked surprised and a bit peeved by my reply. “Well you have to declare it if you want to vote in the primaries,” she said.

“Well then I’d rather not vote in the primaries,” I answered. So she listed me as “no party affiliation”.

My voter card arrived two weeks later. It is a good old-fashioned paper form, but far from simple. It contains a page of instructions directing me to fill in the small ovals in black ink only, or a number two pencil. Any lines outside the oval are classed as spoiling. They cannot be erased or deleted, and a new ballot must be requested if so marked.

Exactly how strict this “staying in the lines” rule is policed, I can’t be sure. But it seems another convenient way to throw away any unwanted ballots. A lengthy legal declaration tells me that I’ll be committing a felony if I vote twice. Then it’s off to Fulham post office.

“It’s my ballot,” I tell our local postmaster. I thought he’d be more impressed. “Just pop it in the bag,” he says. I worry that the bag is not secure enough, as I’ve become quite protective of my ballot by now. But I succumb and leave my vote to the mercy of the postal system.

When I get home, I register my send-off with Democrats Abroad, who have set up a tracking system to ensure the safe arrival of these precious absentee ballots. I don’t yet know if my ballot has arrived safely. But here’s hoping that now I’ve taken the time to stand up and be counted, I actually will be.

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