My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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guess who can’t vote in LA?

Gaaaah! So, check this one out. I moved to Los Angeles. When i did so, i changed my driver license and changed my registration. I never received anything so three weeks ago, i registered to vote again by filling out the form online, getting the paper thing that they send you with everything filled out and sending it back. Still, nothing. So i called the Secretary of State hotline who told me to call LA County. I called them and they told me that i improperly reregistered to vote when i moved back to LA. I was like, move back to LA? I didn’t move back – i just moved here. They then proceeded to tell me that i lived in some address in Long Beach and that the registration material they sent there bounced so i was not registered. I was like, i never lived in Long Beach, and they were like, says here you did. I said this did not make sense, that couldn’t be me. She responded by yelling at me that i was in the books under Long Beach. I asked if there was any way we could fix this and she said that i should send in another application or go to the DMV. I said that it was after October 23. She told me that was my problem, that i couldn’t vote in this election because i didn’t send in an application. I told her i did send in an application and that i even went through the process online so they’d have me recorded there. She said they didn’t. By this point, she was yelling at me and i was in tears so i hung up on her.

I called back to the Secretar of State (still crying) and the guy there said that the local jurisdictions have control over this so there’s nothing that he could do except that i could file a complaint. Damn right i want to file a complaint. I can’t even imagine what the Bob Smith’s of the world go through with people telling them they are someone else.

Luckily, i called up SF and i’m still on the books there (even though they didn’t send anything to my old house according to the people who live there who i asked last week). So i just need to fax in an absentee request and i can vote in SF. This pisses me off since i want to vote on local ballot measures but at least i can vote against the evil state measures.

But WTF? Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed i am with voting. Hell, in 2004, i flew my ass to SF to vote and then flew immediately back because i hadn’t received my absentee ballot. I drag everyone i know into registering. I register multiple times each election just to make sure i’m registered. Imagine the people who aren’t nearly as obsessive. How many people aren’t going to be able to vote because the city thinks they are someone else? How many people are not going to be able to vote because the city just didn’t receive their registration? How many people aren’t going to vote because when they tried to correct their registration the city’s reps yelled at them? Why does it have to be this hard to vote? The city certainly has no trouble finding me when it comes to taxes. In fact, every city i ever lived in finds me tax time. Gaaaaaah!

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11 comments to guess who can’t vote in LA?

  • Why does it have to be this hard to vote?

    My pet theory? The fewer people who vote, the fewer people they need to manipulate.

  • DEMOCKERY

    your founding fathers were against it. Apparently.

  • At least you *can* vote somewhere…

    I can’t vote for anything here in the USA because I’m a nonresident alien and I can’t vote for anything in the UK now because I’m not a resident there either.

  • That’s awful– the people who work in this system should be encouraged by people as motivated to participate as you are, instead of the apathy you received.

    that said, some important information for people who are in fact screwed on voting day (this happened to me when I moved and was unable to vote in the governers primary this year) You can vote anywhere, it’s called voting via provisional ballot. Info is here ( http://ca.lwv.org/lwvc/edfund/elections/e3person.html#prov ), and some highlights below.

    If the poll workers check the roster and cannot locate your name they will assist you to try to find your correct polling location. If you believe you are registered to vote and want to vote at the polling location where you are, you are entitled to a provisional ballot. (Because registration is allowed up to 15 days prior to the election some registrations may be processed after the roster for that election has been printed and so some names may not appear on the list of registered voters at the polling place.) You do not have to show any ID in order to vote provisionally.

    After you vote, your ballot will be placed in a special provisional ballot envelope. Your vote will be counted if:

    The county elections official can verify that you are, in fact, registered to vote and
    You have not already voted
    If you go to a precinct other than the one you are assigned, only the votes for the candidates and measures on which you were entitled to vote in your assigned precinct will be counted.

    Q. What if my name is not on the roster at the polling place?

    If your name does not show up on the precinct roster, a pollworker will help you determine if you are at the right polling place. You can vote by provisional ballot at any polling place. The ballot will be placed in a special envelope that must be signed. It will be checked later to make sure that you are registered to vote in your county. For more details, see “Provisional Ballot”.

    Q. Can I find out whether my provisional ballot was counted?

    You have a right to know if your vote was counted.Contact your county elections office to ask if the ballot with your voting receipt number was counted. There is no charge for this service.

  • You got eaten by the machine. If you weren’t a liberal voter, you’d probably be better off. Well, maybe not. I think honestly these people just don’t care about the disenfranchised voter, and want to just work their 8-4:30 job and then go home. They can’t be bothered with your voting issues. The yelling thing is totally uncalled-for and I would raise a complaint.

  • Sorry for your stress, Danah. I feel the same way about the importance of voting; I just mailed back my absentee ballots from France.

    But as bad as your experience was, it could have been worse. At least you’re white, speak English, and won’t take bullshit from some public official. Think how many people are permanently disenfranchised by the kind of rude incompetence you encountered.

  • I won’t even go into my rant about all the people the government seems to systematically shut out of voting.

  • The voting registration system in the US sucks. I get removed from the registation pretty much after every election. Then i have to go through the process of reregistering. They intentionally make it hard.

  • Oh danah, so sorry you’re having such trouble! I empathise completely — I take voting extremely seriously having grown up in SA where for years not everyone could!!

    What really confuses me is surely everyone has a SSN which can act as a unique identifier? How can they be confused?

  • joe

    As a poll inspector (boss) in Alameda, I can tell you that the person you spoke to in LA is braindead. IM me sometime. The skinny: you should be able to go to your polling place (use mypollingplace.com to find it) and cast a provisional ballot (which is like a ballot on “pause” or “hold”… they ask you for a ton of personal information, but it will result in your vote being counted). You might have to show ID and write down your Driver’s License number and last 4 of your SSN, but what will happen is they will check to see if they have any record of you being registered in LA, and will count the vote and update their records when you cast the provisional ballot.

  • danah, sorry to hear about your encounter with the elections official. I wish I hadn’t heard of similar abuses before, but I worked for Election Protection in 2004 doing tech support, and I saw records of some truly incredible abuses. (In LA.)

    Meri, SSNs do a lousy job of acting as unique identifiers, even when they’re correctly recorded. A bit of web search will reveal a number of articles that discuss the problems with using SSNs for this purpose; among other things, they are occasionally reused. (There are also significant security risks involved in the widespread use of SSNs; no need to make the problem any worse.