Monday, October 3, 2016

The Voting Shuffle

A few days ago I voted in the American election from Hanoi. At least, I hope I did. It can take letters from Vietnam up to a month to get to the US; if you are lucky, they get there in a week or two. Hopefully my ballot will get there in time, and I have until five days after the election for it to arrive and still count. Since I mailed the ballot on September 30, hopefully it will get there in time.

I had registered for an FPCA ballot when I was still living in Austin. You simply fill out a form, and the voting occurs under a federal program, so a lot of the regulations are mandated federally, rather than locally, but some of the rules are local. For instance, in some parts of the US, you can return your ballot by email, but not in Texas. They email me a ballot, and I have to get it printed, along with a host of other documents, and then mail it back. The rules are fairly byzantine, and you have to get it all just right for your vote to count. You have to fill out a signature sheet with some of your basic information on it, and there is an envelope you print out on letter size paper that you have to fold into an envelope and then tape up; you have to sign the back of the envelope as well. In some cases, you have to send in a scan of your ID and affirm your residence, but I didn't have to do that, probably because I did that the last time I voted (which was from Beijing).

When I first got the email, Travis County forgot to include the link to the attachment to the ballot that needed to be printed out. But a day or so later, they sent out another email with the correct link. So all I had to do was download the paperwork, print it out, put it in the envelope, and mail it. Easier said than done. First I had to find someone with a printer so I could print it out. I had to walk all over Hanoi to find the resources I needed, and I had no idea where they would be when I started walking. I just figured I would keep walking until I found the stuff I needed, and I had all day. I had managed to transfer the file to a flash drive, and while walking around, I found a photocopy shop that could print it from the flash drive. So I had the documents printed out.

Then I had to find some clear tape to tape up the approved sheet of paper into an envelope. I had no idea where tape could be found. I tried several convenience stores, but none of them had any. In addition, I had a difficult time communicating to them that tape was what I wanted. So I tried typing “tape” into Google Translate. That didn't work all that well. It gave me a word, but the word was apparently not all that comprehensible to the shopkeepers I showed it to. Next I tried Googling “scotch tape” and choosing an image of it to show to people. That didn't lead to very good results either. I thought the picture of the tape in a dispenser was pretty clear, but one shopkeeper puzzled over the picture for a while and then tried to sell me soy sauce. No good. Finally I walked into one convenience store, showed the woman behind the counter the picture of the tape dispenser, and, after initially getting the predictable puzzled response, I spotted a roll of masking tape on her counter, and picked it up to show to her. She initially pantomimed that there was none for sale in her store, but then got a flash of inspiration, and pulled out a wrapped-up roll with several rolls of clear tape in it, which was not intended for sale, but for her store's use. I wanted to jump for joy...I had finally found what I was looking for! She handed me a roll and indicated that she would charge me about 50 cents for it. So now I had a dispenser-less roll of tape, but at least it was something I could work with.

Next I wanted to find a coffee shop where I could sit for a while, hopefully inside with air conditioning and enough room to spread out all the paperwork, and fill out the documentation and my ballot. I found a place that suited me perfectly (minus the air conditioning but at least it had good fans), ordered a bubble tea drink, and sat down to complete all the papers and my ballot. It probably took me about half an hour. I was able to tape up the envelope to get it sent, despite my difficulties in finding the edge of the tape, and needing to keep it away from the roll by sticking the end of it to my finger, awkwardly cutting it with my pocketknife when needed, and repeating this procedure until the envelope had been created, the contents had been placed therein, and it was sealed.

Success! Now I needed to find a post office to mail the envelope with the ballot. Luckily, I knew where the main post office was, near Hoan Kiem Lake, so I headed off in that direction. I went into the post office, they weighed the letter and assigned me the appropriate amount of stamps (you still have to lick the stamps in Vietnam); I applied them to the envelope and dropped it in the international mailbox for mailing to the States. And then I embarked on the hour-and-a-half-long walk back home. So I was able to fulfill my civic duty, assuming the letter gets there on time. And all I had to do to vote was trudge around on foot for about 17 kilometers. You're welcome, America.

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