Missing absentee ballots left students out of democracy

Who didn’t get to vote?

Caroline Pramas is a freshman from Massachusetts. In early August, she went to her clerks’ office to register to vote absentee.

She checked off the box on the form, and provided her DePaul address with additional information.

“I asked the woman working at my town offices if there was anything else I needed to do and she said no, so I left the office and thought nothing of it,” Pramas said.

As Nov. 6 approached, Pramas would check her mailbox every day hoping that her ballot was there.

She started worrying when the election was a week away, and her mailbox was still empty.

“I knew from sending letters and packages home that it takes a long time for mail to reach Massachusetts,” Pramas said. “I called my parents to ask them what I needed to do.”

Her parents told her that she needed to fax the town office to ask for another one.

“I needed to fax a message because they needed my signature in order to send another ballot. So I wrote a message to fax to my town, but I could not for the life of me find a fax machine on campus that I could use.”

Pramas “wasted” a day looking for a fax machine, but just ended up using UPS and faxed the message a fast five days before the election.

After that, a woman from her town office called Pramas and told her that she wasn’t registered for an absentee ballot, which Pramas said didn’t make sense to her, and that she would mail her one.

Pramas was lucky. Sort of.

Her ballot arrived but three days before the election.

“I know from experience that mail does not get from Chicago to Massachusetts in three days,” Pramas said, but she still went ahead and voted.

Pramas is not alone. Another student from DePaul, Grace Cunyus, experienced the same thing. Except Cunyus’s ballot didn’t arrive until after the election.

Cunyus is from Texas. She had sent out her request for her ballot just before the deadline.

And then, Cunyus said, it didn’t come in. It was Nov. 6 and it wasn’t there.

“I needed to vote,” Cunyus said.

Then, her mother had a crazy idea.

“What if we fly you home?” her mother offered.

Cunyus said the election was really important to her, and that she wanted to stand up for what she believed in.

“It was really expensive but I did it. And I was able to go home and vote … it kind of put a stress on me for the rest of the quarter but I think it was worth it,” said Cunyus. 

“I don’t think many kids went home to vote but from what I heard, I was not the only kid whose absentee ballot didn’t come on time,” she said. “I think the process is a little screwed up … but you know.”

Cunyus’s ballot arrived at DePaul the day after she returned.

Kathleen Ashenden flat out never received her ballot.

Asheden, a freshman and fellow first-time voter from Georgia, was all set and ready to go. She filled out her form in early October and mailed it back to her mother. Her mother mailed it, faxed it and emailed it to the state.

But she never got the ballot.

“I did everything I could. It was not that hard of a process, it was just annoying that nothing happened … I got nothing.”

Asheden was discouraged as she really wanted to vote in her first election. Even though she said she knew her vote wouldn’t have mattered in her home state, it meant that she had an opinion and could be heard.

“It still helps,” she said.

For each of the three, something about the election mattered to them.

For Asheden, she said, “I wanted to experience what voting for a president was like … and knowing that what I said helped change the future of our country.”

For Cunyus, voting had personal associations.

“I still disagree with politics of the Republicans in my family and I just wanted stand up for what I believed in,” said Cunyus. “It was me breaking free from even what my mother thinks.”

Cunyus said she wanted to make a point.

“It’s not for anyone else but myself that I can stand up for what I believe in.”

Though the flight had implications for her, she doesn’t regret making the trip to vote.

“No, it was something I had to do,” she said.

Absentee voting has shown to be on the rise, and according to a recent CNN article, 26 million absentee ballots were sent out by states in 2008.

As for Pramas, besides the fact that it was the first election she could vote in, there were also several issues she wanted to vote on that were dear to her.

Until just a few days ago, Pramas didn’t know whether her ballot arrived on time for it to be counted.

She received an email from her city clerk after inquiring recently saying that her vote was “received and counted.”

It was good news for Pramas, a hassle for Cunyus, but still nothing for Asheden.

The Chicago Board of Elections claimed to have had a very successful year with absentee ballots. But they couldn’t answer any questions about the actions of other jurisdictions, or where someone like Asheden’s ballot is – buried somewhere in the mail truck of lost and forgotten democracy.