OPINION: Inadequate mail-in support shook my faith in the voting system

(Archive photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian)

As a Missouri voter living in Manhattan, I, like plenty of out-of-state students, placed my faith in absentee voting this general election.

Early in October, I slapped an American flag stamp on my ballot request and mailed it to my home county. Then, I waited.

And I kept waiting.

As weeks passed, with Election Day approaching, my confidence that my ballot would arrive in time was rapidly fading. When warnings started popping up on my social media feeds advising voters against mailing in their ballots at a certain point, I gave my local elections office a call.

“Oh, you should have gotten your ballot weeks ago,” the woman on the phone told me.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

While the woman I spoke to told me I’d filled out the ballot request with my correct Manhattan address, it had been sent to an old address I’d never used to vote before. She offered no explanation as to how this could have happened.

When I checked with the current residents of my old address, they hadn’t received my ballot either, and the woman told me I had one option to make my vote count — make the five-hour drive to my hometown to vote in person.

Eager to cast my first-ever ballot in a general election, and in lieu of any other choice, I called my parents to let them know I was visiting for the weekend. The elections official I spoke with gave me the day, time and location I was to report to in order to fill out some paperwork and cast my vote.

Just a couple days later, I rolled out of bed in my childhood home excited to straighten this mess out and fill out a ballot. But when I looked up my polling place to get directions, I was shocked to see that the time I was told to come in — 12:30 p.m. — was the same time the building closed for the day.

Luckily, it was early, so I made it to my voting site within hours of its closing, but my confidence in the office I was reporting to was decreasing with every bump in the road. Surely it’s not hard to mail a ballot to the address it was requested at. And surely it’s even less difficult to know when your own office building closes, right?

Even more frustrating, when I finally made it to the election office, rather than the scheduled appointment the woman on the phone had described to me, I was greeted by backed-up traffic in an overflowing parking lot and a line wrapped around the building.

Obviously, I’m not the first person to have to wait in line to fulfill their civic duty, so I took a deep breath and got in line, six feet away from my fellow voters. I passed the two hours of waiting by reading articles on my phone about others’ experiences with lost mail-in ballots. The more I read, the more I understood that I was just one of many with this problem, and plenty of those in the same situation live much farther from their counties of registration than I do. As a result, the intended recipients of many lost mail-in ballots weren’t able to have their voices heard on Election Day.

It’s disheartening that in such a pivotal election, one in which it was understood far in advance that mail-in voting would play a crucial role, so many voters were counted out when they postmarked their ballots or ballot requests.

Despite doing what they were told and mailing requests weeks in advance, absentee voters were at a disadvantage to have their voices heard in this election. The struggle to be counted isn’t new, as voter suppression has existed as long as elections themselves, and compared to many Americans, my voting process was smooth sailing.

In my particular situation, I don’t think the culprit was suppression, but incompetence. A mail-in voting system with insufficient capacity to count the votes it knew were coming, and election office workers who didn’t know the answers to my questions or when they were supposed to clock out, made voting a stressful experience I’m grateful is over.

The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth — one I would have preferred to come by from licking an envelope seal on my mail-in ballot.

Regardless of the outcome of the general election, my faith in the voting system that Americans have been told is our greatest weapon against injustice, is wavering at best. I imagine for many who weren’t able to cast their votes, that trust is broken altogether.

Emma Witter is the Collegian news editor and a senior is mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.