Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Vote early and often. Or not at all.

Vote early and often.

You've heard this time-honored [tired] saying about Chicago elections, which supposedly even reanimate the deceased.

In my case, it was, "Vote not at all."

What happened to me on Election Day, November 7, is probably not that unusual, although the judges told me I was the only one all day, as of 6:30 p.m. That's me—always different.

The way in which it happened was funnier than most of what you'll see on a comedy show.

After work I duly reported to my polling place, where the Democratic judge could not find me in the book.

In other words, this was my first step on the road to finding out that I am a non-person.

Befuddled, the judge referred me to the Republican judges, apparently in the hopes they have better eyesight. They could not find me in the book or on their list.

"Have you moved?" they asked. "Yes, in 2003, but I voted in 2004." After some back-and-forth during which they told me that perhaps I voted before but it may not have been counted, they referred me to a Person of Greater Authority (PGA) to give me a provisional ballot.

The PGA called "Election Central," which pulled a Peter the Disciple and denied all knowledge of me. "Sorry," she said. "When was the last time you voted?" "2004." "Two years ago? That's the problem." "But I've been voting for more than 20 years and never had this problem before." "Did you vote in the primary?" "No." "Aha," she said knowingly. "But I've never had this problem before!" By now I was getting emotional, as it was clear that as long as "Election Central" didn't know me, I was going nowhere near a voting machine.

"Why would they arbitrarily delete me?" I wailed. Then, realizing it was best to leave before embarrassing myself even more, I said, "I"m not upset with you," but halfway through my apology the PGA turned her back on me to ask someone who didn't need help if they needed help. Next!

At home, a little calmer, I called the Illinois board of elections complaint number. The person who answered listened to my tale of woe sympathetically, but said only the Chicago board of elections could help me. He did point out that not having voted since 2004 had nothing to do with it and that I shouldn't have been told that it did. Apparently the PGA was incorrect, at least about that.

Now, this is when it gets good. I called the Chicago board of elections and, upon request, gave my address: 5500 South Shore Drive. After several minutes of muttering, she told me that address didn't come up. I repeated it, as I would approximately 50 times in the next 10 minutes. "5500 South South Shore Drive, right?" she asked. "No, 5500 South Shore Drive." "Okay, 5500 South South Shore Drive." "No, it's 5500 South Shore Drive." "That's what I said, 5500 South South Shore Drive." "5500 SOUTH SHORE DRIVE." (When you're not being heard, it helps to raise your voice to complement the increase in your blood pressure.)

"You mean, there's no directional?" "Yes, it's south. 5500 SOUTH Shore Drive." "So it is 5500 South South Shore Drive." "It's just SHORE Drive; south is the directional." By now, even I was recognizing the potential for comedy, similar to Abbott and Costello.

I heard her consulting someone about 5500 East Lake Shore Drive. Oh, no . . . At one point, she informed me there is no building at that address, whatever that address was in her muddled mind. She couldn't mean 5500 South Shore Drive, where there's been a building since the late 1920s.

Clearly the address was getting us nowhere, so she asked my last name. "S-C-H-I-R-F," I said at 85+ decibels. "F as in Frank"—this because most people hear the last letter as an "s," so I thought I'd cut her off at that pass.

It didn't matter. "I see Fleming, Fraser, etc., but no F-C-H." Help . . .

"S as in Sam, C as in cat, H as in horse . . ." It didn't matter. My address didn't exist, my building didn't exist, and unaccountably S-C-H-I-R-F could not be found under the Fs. So she had the great idea of looking up my old address. Apparently, South Everett is not nearly as elusive an address because she found it—and me. I'm not sure how, but I may have voted with my new address (which I shall not repeat) in 2004. In 2005, the board of elections received returned mail from my old address and dismissed me with "inactive" status.

After all that, the solution was to fill out a card and mail it to the board of elections. Soon I hope to have my address, building, and registered voter status back.

But that hour of my life is gone forever.


  1. More than an hour - sounds like you ceased to exist for a year! Any way you might be owed back some taxes? ;)

  2. There are times I wish I could cease to exist for several years!