I Mailed In My Ballot: The Unbearable Nonstickiness of Voting

The skeptical cardiologist dropped his ballot into one of the drive-by mailboxes outside the Clayton post office yesterday with a sense of relief.

My first ever attempt at absentee voting was not a simple process. What follows is a guide for those who are contemplating mail-in or absentee voting (which is most applicable to Missouri residents and envelope lickers.)

Step One: Determine Eligibility and Need for Notary

First, about a month ago, I determined that I didn’t want to stand in (potentially long) lines on election day in (potentially close) proximity to my fellow (potentially poorly) masked citizens of University City, Missouri.

Fortunately, Missouri allows everyone to vote by mail in 2020. Unfortunately, for most this will require their ballot to be notarized.

The two exceptions to this are:

  1. Incapacitated or confined due to sickness or disability, including caring for a person who is incapacitated or confined due to sickness or disability

2. For an election that occurs during the year 2020, the voter has contracted or is in an at-risk category for contracting or transmitting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (COVID-19).

I qualify under the second exception because “Voters who are considered at-risk for contracting or transmitting COVID-19 are those who”

  • Are 65 years of age or older;
  • Live in a long-term care facility licensed under Chapter 198, RSMo.;
  • Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
  • Have serious heart conditions;
  • Are immunocompromised;
  • Have diabetes;
  • Have chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis; or
  • Have liver disease.

It’s unclear to me if there is any realistic way for Missouri to check on any of the factors they consider to put a voter “at-risk for contracting or transmitting COVID-19” other than by age (which is how I qualify.) What qualifies as a “serious heart condition?” What qualifies as diabetes?

In any event, please scrutinize closely this infographic which unravels the mysterious and confusing path to having your vote be counted.

Importantly, note that you must apply for the ballot by 10/21 which is 10 days from today!

Second Step: Get a Ballot Mailed To You

My second step, having determined that I was eligible for the mail-in ballot (without notary signature) was to go online to the St. Louis County website and fill out this form which can be emailed, faxed, hand-delivered to the St. Louis County Board of Electors office in St. Ann, Missouri.

Submit the request to your local election office. You should request your ballot as far in advance of the election as possible. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is (received by) 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21, 2020.

I filled mine out online, saved it as a PDF, signed it with my digital signature, and emailed it. About two weeks ago the requested ballot arrived.

Third Step: Fill Out and Mail Your Ballot As Soon As Possible and Beware of Faulty Sealant

Filling out the ballot seemed relatively straightforward. I put it in the accompanying envelope. I signed my name (without Notary Seal) and checked off the seventh (COVID-19) criterion which exempted me from the Notary and drove to the Clayton Post office.

I waited until the last minute to seal the envelope and proceeded to lick it and (presumably) seal it while stopped at the mailbox. It’s been a while since I’ve licked an envelope but I have licked hundreds if not thousands during preceding decades without problems.

I was unaware of the state of Washington’s instructions to voters in March not to lick envelopes:

Thus far I believe I have dodged contracting COVID-19 from the envelope (and hopefully not transmitting it) but unfortunately the envelope did not even approximate sealing properly. I reevaluated the amount of moisture I had applied and tried adding more to no avail.

I was a victim of faulty envelope glue! I began to suspect a conspiracy aimed at disenfranchising envelope lickers like me.

I called the Board of Electors and informed of this potentially catastrophic event but they seem nonplussed. They recommended I scotch tape the envelope shut and mail it in which I did the next day having exhausted my patience with ballots for that day.

I am not alone with nonsticking ballot envelope problems. An election in Morris, NJ last year was influenced by faulty sealant on mail-in ballot envelopes as 42 ballots were disqualified because they weren’t properly sealed according to the New Jersey Globe. And the Austrian government in 2016 was forced to rerun the presidential election after voters complained of envelopes with a faulty “sealing mechanism.”

Attached to my ballot was a tear-off portion which (theoretically) will allow me to “Track this ballot” using the ID number or a bar code. The USPS recommends I allow 7-10 days for the return of the ballot and when it reaches its destination I presume this will allow me to verify receipt.

I’m sure I don’t need to emphasize how important it is that everyone try to exercise their right to vote on November 3. Hopefully, everyone who wants to vote will be able to and won’t be disenfranchised by faulty envelope adhesives.

Let’s also hope that our election boards have not purchased cheap envelopes in the manner of George Costanza.

Enfranchisingly Yours,

-ACP

My next door neighboor has had herself certified as a Notary in order to facilitate the process of absentee voting. She does it for free. If you need a no charge Notary let me know.

N.B. In order to be counted, mail-in ballots must be received by the election authority at or before the time fixed by law for the closing of the polls on Election Day (7:00 p.m.).

N.B. Each state has its own rules for absentee mail-in voting. See here for your state’s rules.

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12 thoughts on “I Mailed In My Ballot: The Unbearable Nonstickiness of Voting”

  1. I can’t help but think requiring notarization is to discourage voting. I don’t see what purpose it serves, especially if it can be excluded so easily under certain conditions.

    I had the same problem with my mail-in ballot in a different state. I’ve never licked envelopes, even pre-pandemic. I get a kleenex and blot some water on it and run it across, but it didn’t work this time for some reason. I ended up using tape, but I was worried about any little thing that might seem off to the registrar. Fortunately I can track it to make sure it gets counted. The peel-off sticky tape works much better than the licking kind.

    I also get ballots for Swedish elections, and I never even signed up to (maybe because I was enlisted in their version of the selective services –but that was a long time ago and a couple of addresses ago). I only lived there one year as a child (but I am a citizen through my mother’s citizenship), and I’m not even sure how they have my current address. But the last time I was sent a ballot, it was really easy. They had little pieces of paper you put in for yes or no or the name of the person. I didn’t vote because I didn’t feel it was my right not actually living there or knowing much of what is going on. I just found it fascinating it was easier to vote in another country’s election than my own. They sent me the ballot without me even asking for it. In my state you have to request the ballot and up until this year I had to declare my disability. As of this year, I don’t and anyone can request a mail-in ballot. No stamp required this year either, which I believe is different from before—but I could be wrong about that.

    Reply
    • Pamela,
      I presume I learned cursive after my family moved to the states in 1960. Handwriting has always been my weakest academic skill and mine worsened during my medical training. I therefore welcomed electronic documentation (but now it makes me miserable.) When signing prescriptions, forms, etc. in the medical office my signature became reduced to just the “loopy P” and I sign so infrequently these days that I’m never quite sure what squiggles will appear on the page I sign.

      Reply
  2. Notarizing is such a strange, archaic practice. In NY the Board of Elections maintains a copy of voter signatures; they are visually compared at the poll. New York had qualifications for absentee voting, but they were recently removed.
    But here in Brooklyn–printing of the absentee ballots was given in a no-bid contract to a company that contributes heavily to Republican candidates. Many went out with incorrect names and/or addresses. So then a second set was sent out–apparently to everyone–not just to those whose first ballots had problems. People who had submitted their first ballots were told to submit the second–regardless of whether the first had errors.
    So what happens to those who mailed in their first ballot and threw the second in the trash? I don’t know, but after an hour on the phone with the Board of Elections, I’m not sure I got an answer.

    Reply
    • I’ve only voted in California and Washington State. California, always in person in the old days when they weren’t allowed to ask for ID! Washington, never a problem with mail in. Your blog is always helpful and informative. Thank you!

      Reply
  3. I’m sure your post is of great service to many. This just to say, your neighbours in the North are watching this election with bated breath, and many prayers that all will go smoothly.

    Reply
    • Angela,
      thank you! Hopefully all of our venerable democratic institutions will hold strong and we emerge from the election in a better place.

      Reply
  4. The process in Missouri seems ridiculous and full of loop-holes that can be exploited to challenge ballots after the fact. And really, you need to have your ballot notarized? Who is going to bother with that? Many notaries are not free, so this amounts to a Poll Tax.
    Here in Colorado we have had universal mail-in ballots for years. All registered voters get sent a ballot. We received ours yesterday, filled it out, and dropped it in one of the drop-off boxes nearby. The whole process was as simple as possible.
    In a country like ours where the problem is not voter fraud, but voter apathy (only about 50-60% of eligible voters bother to vote), we need to stop putting barriers in front of the only real control we have over the government.

    Reply
  5. OMG, your experience makes my state, Florida, look like a model or efficiency in how we vote my mail.

    We simply make an online request to the county supervisor of elections and ask they send us the ballot for all elections for 1 year in advance. Florida even includes the ballot return postage.

    Whether our ballot is counted properly-well that’s another story. :LOL

    Good thing you didn’t need to find a notary, that experience would make even your voting experience look easy.

    Jim

    Reply
    • I meant to mention that my next door neighboor has had herself certified as a Notary for the express purpose of notarizing these mail in ballots. She does it for free.

      Reply
  6. The military has been doing this for decades and has the process down to an easy routine. One of my extra duties as a young lieutenant in 1975 was the unit’s voting assistance officer.

    Reply

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