Voting Abroad

The 2012 Presidential Election is old news now, but it has the distinction of being the first election that I voted for. Back in the summer, I had filled out the forms to have my absentee ballot sent home in New Jersey. It seemed liked a great idea at that time. The quarter did not start until the October, so my plan was to fill out the form, send it in the mail, and fly to Paris having fulfilled my civic duties.

As luck would have it, the form never arrived, but luckily, the Union of Overseas Voters arrived at the Cité on a Wednesday afternoon to register American students who were studying abroad. They gave us homemade cookies and candy as we filled ou the forms (or in my case, refilled the forms). I cast my vote on the Federal Post Card Application.

Problem #1: I didn’t know where to buy stamps. Well, I did. But the vocabulary was beyond me.

Problem #2: The voting form comes with its own envelope that require you to tear and fold things in a specific configurations. I was very bad at following the instructions and ripped the tamper-proof seal off of the envelope. I tried to “reseal” it back on, but it didn’t look very legitimate.

Problem #3: I didn’t have a printer. So much for reprinting the forms.

Problem #4: Time was also of the essence. I needed to submit my vote by the first week of October for it to arrive on time to be counted.

I did some Google searching and discovered nothing about how to fix my envelope. I did learn more abut voter fraud and also that I could drop off my ballot at the American Embassy. Instead of having to deal with a grumpy postal worker, I could have foreign diplomats drop my ballot off. An ingenious idea!

I packed my passport along with my notebooks and readings. After French class, I took the Metro towards the Place de  la Concord. I walked past the Egyptian Obelisk and towards the majestic looking buildings to the north.

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The American Embassy was tucked on the corner of the traffic circle. If you’re standing at the vantage point of this photo, the building would be sitting on the corner directly behind you. I think one of the aforementioned buildings was a hotel. Men with expensive suits and women wearing dignified cocktail dresses walked through the doorway and a row of black cars with diplomatic license plates lined up in a neat row to collect their passengers. The American Embassy was barricaded by metal bars and a security guard shook his head at me when I took out my camera to snap a camera. (I wound up taking a picture anyway, albeit at a distance. You know, for the memories.)

When I approached the guard, I told him about my absentee ballot form. He shook his head and said that he didn’t speak English and led me through the front entrance. There was a rope separating the entrance into lanes, and a man who spoke English asked me for my passport. As he examined my picture, I put my bag into the X-ray machine and went through a metal detector with my absentee ballot in hand.

There were three other employees sitting at the other end of the machine. A woman held out a box that was filled with envelopes. I went to hand my form to the woman, but she gave it back to me. “You have to do it yourself.”

It was probably some regulation of some sort although I’m not sure how someone would be able to commit voting fraud in the span of two seconds, but perhaps someone will surprise me one day. In any case, this was what was going through my mind as I jammed my half-assed sealed envelope into the tiny slot. I patted it down, and the three employees burst into applause. I looked up with a surprised smile on my face.

“Congratulations!” someone said.

Maybe they knew it was my first time voting because I looked like a young student. At this point, voting had become a hassel and another errand I had to run, but the quick applause was a nice reminder that voting is a big deal. I’m not sure if my vote was actually counted since I accidentally ruined the seal. (Besides, I’m from New Jersey anyway.) But at the very least, I can claim that I’ve stepped foot inside of an embassy.

P.S. I was also called for jury duty while I was abroad. I suppose that civic duty will have to be postponed into the indefinite future.

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