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Suffering a lack of suffrage

“Denied.” I stared at the word on the page, not wanting to believe my eyes. My application to vote in my temporarily adopted home state has been denied. For the first time since I have been eligible to vote – when dinosaurs roamed the earth, according to my offspring – I cannot participate in the election for our nation’s highest office.

It’s hard to make this confession to the world, to my friends, to my two voting-age children, whom I’ve reminded multiple times, “Don’t forget to register to vote!” My election-year enthusiasm has been eclipsed by my administrative ineptitude.

I have only myself to blame. My first mistake, according to the unsympathetic form letter I received last week, was that I neglected to put my Social Security number on my application.

Unbelievable that I overlooked such an important item. Perhaps I had a momentary memory lapse when asked to fill in my own identifying number instead of my “sponsor’s social,” the digits most essential to my life as a military spouse. Maybe I automatically filled in my husband’s number, and that’s why my application was rejected. Would that be voter fraud? Should I fear a knock at the door?

“Honestly, officer, I was not trying to steal my husband’s identity. I just seem to have misplaced my own.”

I suppose I’ll never know exactly how I made this mistake. The offending document was not returned to me.

Admittedly, I’m out of practice with this kind of voter registration. I’ve been out of the country for three of the last six presidential elections, out of my home state for all of them. Perhaps I’ve forgotten any way of voting but absentee. I decided to vote the old fashioned way this time around, but instead of absentee, I’m just AWOL this election day.

My second mistake – and this is inexcusable – I waited until the last minute to send my application, leaving no time for a second chance to get it right. I read the ominous words: “The deadline has passed.” My application cannot be reconsidered until tomorrow – one day too late for this election.

So today I’m among the disenfranchised, left out of the party, or the war between the parties, or whatever this process to choose our leader has become. No matter how it has evolved, I wanted to show up and to add my voice to the cacophony. Now I can’t.

I’ve been following the campaign for months, or has it been years? I’ve endured what surely must have been the longest presidential campaign in history. With a price tag hovering around $2 billion, it certainly has been the most expensive.

I watched the debates, the presidential, the vice-presidential and the not-so-presidential. I read the newspapers, weighed the arguments, evaluated the candidates’ policies, or lack thereof on issues, especially those affecting the military. I believe I reached my personal saturation point of political awareness. No doubt my friends and family reached their saturation point with my political awareness.

Living in the D.C. area certainly contributed to this condition. It’s a great place to spend an election year. It's exciting to be so close to the epicenter of this event to choose our country's leader.

But it comes to this: My support, my opinions, my researching and soul-searching are null and void. My voice is all but is meaningless without my vote. Forgive me for trying to snatch some significance from the jaws of my civic incompetence. I can’t be a shining example of citizenship this time around, so I’ll have to settle for being a cautionary tale.

If you can vote, be sure to do so, and be thankful when you exercise this privilege. Remember those who can’t – especially those who can’t for reasons much more compelling than mine.

You may think that one vote among millions doesn’t count for much, but you’ll know your ballot truly doesn’t count when you are unable to cast one.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

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About the Author

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three living in Illinois. She writes "Spouse Calls" weekly for Stars and Stripes and is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life. Leave comments on the blog or write to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.


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