Like more and more voters, I vote absentee. My ballot arrives through the mail in advance of election day. To count, it must arrive back at the registrar of voters before 5PM on the day of the election. Usually I just fill it in, seal it, sign my name across the envelope’s back flap, and drop it in a mailbox. But in the recent presidential primary there was a catch.
I wanted to vote in the democratic primary, but I didn’t have the right ballot. Being a registered non-partisan, aligning myself with no political party, my ballot had only the California referendums on it. To vote in the democratic primary I needed a new ballot. Hmm, I asked myself why remain “independent” when at heart I am a democrat. The only reason I could come up with is “Live free or die.”
“Live free or die” is the official motto of the State of New Hampshire. In July 1809 General John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous revolutionary soldier, wrote these words for a toast in a letter excusing himself due to ill health from an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington. Today, they are stamped on every New Hampshire vehicle license plate as a constant reminder that independent thinking and action are imperatives. This principle is not only engrained in the citizenry of New Hampshire but also in every New Englander. I had answered my own question. I could move states, countries, or hemispheres but being born and raised in the New England State of Massachusetts, I could never escape my destiny to “live free or die.” So be it.
To vote in the primary, I had two choices. Request a democratic ballot in advance by mail—which I hadn’t done on time—or go to the polling station and vote there.
Since option one was out, I headed for the polling station nearest my house. It was just around the corner. In three minutes, I was explaining to the poll worker that I wanted to vote in the democratic primary.
Enthusiastically he launched into his memorized speal, “No problem, except this isn’t your polling station. You have two choices. Surrender your absentee ballot and vote on a provisional ballot here or go to your assigned polling station, surrender your ballot, and vote on a regular ballot.” Skeptical that my provisional ballot would be counted, I opted for the second choice, stuffed my absentee ballot back into my bag, and headed out the door to the correct polling station, a quarter-of-a-mile away at the Fairmeadow School.
“Why not just use the provisional ballot?” I asked myself. “Is it my nature or is it just human nature to distrust?” I answered my own question, “No, it is something different. It is just my need to do it right the first time.”
I continued to fret, “Why wasn’t the closet polling station to my house mine? Before, it always had been. Are the bureaucrats simply ignorant of the Palo Alto street map and so have assigned polling stations willy-nilly? Is there some hidden and sinister reason for confusing the electorate? Maybe they want people to just give up and walk away without voting.”
Surely this is nonsense thinking. Or is it? Some people see conspiracies against open and free elections around every corner. This time, I am sure, it is simply bureaucratic je ne sais quoi: The “I Don’t know. I don’t care. No one told me” syndrome. Arriving at my assigned polling station, I sign my name, give my street address, surrender my absentee ballot, take a new democratic ballot, vote, and push the completed ballot into the ballot box. It took three minutes, not more.
Mission accomplished. Live free or die.