Absentee Ballots and Today’s Poll Taxes

Voting should be free. All forms of voting should be free. So why aren’t they?

A good friend of mine told me today of his drama in getting his absentee ballot submitted on time. Because he got the ballot late (problem #1), to ensure that the ballot was postmarked by close-of-polls tomorrow he had to pay $14 to express mail it back to his home state.

If you go to vote in person, you do not have to pay any money to vote. However, if you vote by mail (like we do in my county), you have to pay money in the form of postage. Also, if you vote absentee (which is also done by mail generally), you have to pay money in the form of postage.

This equates to a poll tax in my opinion. Why don’t absentee ballots or mail-in ballots give you self-address stamped envelopes to use?

The issue here is not the amount of money, but the principal. If it is said to be the civic duty of a citizen to vote, they should not have to pay to do so.

One Love. One II.



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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

2 responses to “Absentee Ballots and Today’s Poll Taxes”

  1. Christopher B. says :

    Another barrier is that absentee ballots cost more than one stamp to mail back – meaning folks have to think before mailing their ballot (not sure most folks think before they vote anyhow). I asked the guy who delivers my mail and he said he’d take all of them in, but that it was up to the person coming by your house to pick up outgoing mail or the local postmaster to decide to mail ballots with insufficent postage. Seems like that could be done by geographic area to exclude tons of black voters pretty easily (and by the rules).

  2. Garlin II says :

    Christopher B., thanks for the comment.

    This is all the more reason why there should be a mandate to have free elections. What you are describing is basically that your mail(wo)man decides if your vote counts.

    The idea that this could be used for geographically targetted voter suppression is a real one because communities of color in many cities/areas live in the same area (e.g. Mexican Town on southwest side of Detroit, Seattle’s Central District).

    The goal of a responsible democracy is to make voting simple and easy, not confusingly difficult.

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