By Joe Rector

As of this writing, more than 40 million Americans have voted in the 2020 presidential election. Even with coronavirus cases hitting nearly 60,000 each day, folks are putting on their masks and heading to the polls. I tried to be safer this year by voting in a different way, but things didn’t work out so well.

I filled out the standard absentee request form online. For some reason, electronic signatures aren’t accepted, so the form had to be downloaded, printed, signed, and mailed. At that point, I was still committed to this method of casting my ballot so that I could stay safe and protect my loved ones from possible infections.

I put the request for a ballot in my mailbox on September 21. Worries arose about the form arriving at the right place because of the shenanigans pulled by the new director of the U.S. Postal Service. For most people, pulling out sorting machines that could handle mail, cutting overtime hours for employees, and making deliverers leave without having pulled all of the day’s mail certainly led to a distrust of the post office.

After a week or so, I anxiously checked the mail each day for my ballot. Each day my disappointment and anxiety grew when it didn’t arrive. By the second week, panic almost set in. On the Thursday before early voting began, I called the election commission. The worker there was polite and helpful. She checked on the status and relayed my ballot request form arrived on September 29 and that workers were now working on processing requests from September 27, 28 and 29. It took a full week to send a single envelope from northwest Knoxville to downtown Knoxville!

On October 14th, my brother Jim and I met at the Karns Senior Citizen Center. We’d decided to cast our ballots the regular way. Always the worrier, I suggested we meet no later than 7: 00 a.m. to avoid long lines. My arrival time was 6:40, and Jim drove up a few minutes later. We queued up with others and stood behind just five people.

No other voting ran more smoothly, at least until I gave my name to the poll worker. She frowned and scanned the computer screen and then announced that I had requested an absentee ballot. I confirmed that but told her I’d done so nearly a month ago. Because I was so concerned about the post office’s possible failure to turned around the ballot in time to count, I decided to vote in person.

The worker, who told me she was a trainer, made several calls to unanswered phones before getting in touch with her boss. After another couple of calls, she informed me that I would have to fill out a provisional ballot. I assured her that I planned to toss the mailed ballot in the trash if it ever arrived. Part of this new process involved filling out several forms and signing my name more times than I had since college. I thanked the workers for all their help and left the polling place.

Jim sat in his truck and waited for me to come out. He’d been finished several minutes before and laughed at me when I walked up. He asked if I was going to vote absentee again. The reply is one that can’t be repeated here.

That afternoon, I retrieved the mail, and yes, just as you’ve guessed, the absentee ballot was in the stack of envelopes. I shook my head as I deposited the whole thing in the garbage. Voting in person was the best decision considering that I can’t be sure the mail service can get the mail-in one where it goes.

I’m proud that so many Americans are taking part in this election. Prognosticators say this could be a record turnout. Regardless of which candidate voters choose, they can feel good in knowing that their participation in the process strengthened democracy. Also, those who vote have the right to voice complaints; those who haven’t participated forfeit that right. So, make sure you vote.