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I'm so angry about this that I'm on the verge of tears. I've been voting without incident since 1988 (go, Dukakis!). But this morning my vote didn't count.

Jim and I went to vote at 7 am. We were given Democratic ballots and pens. But when I got to the booth, my pen didn't work -- it was like a felt-tip marker with no ink. So I went back to the desk and was told -- along with several other confused voters trying to swap out their nonfunctional pens -- that these were "invisible ink" pens that would not leave marks on the ballot but would absolutely be read by the scanners.

Except that they weren't. The optical scanners were spitting out ballots until one of the election judges used a key to override the system and get the ballots into the box. After my ballot was rejected once, I got a confirmation that my vote "counted" (when the number on the ballot box blipped from 19 to 20), but Jim was given a regular ballpoint to fill in his, and it counted right away.

As I was waiting for Jim to finish voting, I saw a woman (let's call her Angela, because that is her name) talking to a Board of Elections official about these weird invisible ink pens. Angela had tried to vote just after 6 am, and called the BOE after her ballot was also rejected. The BOE official kept flipping through the official booklet and found nothing about invisible ink pens -- neither she nor the other BOE supervisor who showed up knew anything about them. Yet the election judges kept insisting they were trained to hand out these pens, asserting that the scanners could read them. By this time my ballot was in the box and I couldn't do it over.

Angela and I swapped phone numbers and agreed to bother people until we got some answers. On the way to the train, I stopped in the Democratic committeeman's office and was basically blown off -- if there's a problem with the machines, the polls will stay open later, he said. I asked how this would help MY vote count. He did not know. (on edit: I should mention here that the committeeman and another guy working in that office both said when I asked about the invisible ink thing, "Yeah, that's how they're doing it this year." So there's plenty of stupid to go around.)

When I got to the office I called the Chicago Tribune, the Board of Elections, a Rogers Park blogger, and my alderman. The Trib told me to send them an e-mail with the details (which I did, and also posted to their blog for election irregularities); the BOE line was busy, so I sent them an e-mail and got a response apologizing for the "enconvenence" (no word about the, you know, unconstitutional-ness or anything); the blogger didn't respond; the alderman's office said they were aware of the situation and had called in the state's attorney, who went to the polling place to make sure people were being given real pens from then on. But the alderman's office was waiting for word from the BOE about the ballots from this morning and whether or not we would be allowed to re-vote. Although, honestly, I can't see how that would work. It's not like I signed my name to my ballot so they could just pick it out of the bin and let me fill it in for real.

I finally got to talk to a Trib reporter, who said he would check with his boss to see if this is worth pursuing as a story (I should fucking hope so!), and Angela talked to someone at the Sun-Times. I also asked a bunch of people around the office if they were given magical pens this morning, and they looked at me like I was nuts. I don't blame them. Magic pens? What the fuck?

I feel stupid and cheated and furious and helpless. I've registered hundreds of voters, participated in every election since I turned 18, researched the candidates (even the fucking judges!), worked as a poll watcher for Gore and an Election Protection volunteer for Kerry. I never thought my vote would be the one needing protection. I figured I would be smart enough not to get scammed.

The most historic election of my life so far, and my vote won't count.

So, how's your day going?

UPDATE, 6:00 pm: Praise the sweet baby jebus, I got to vote again.

I know, that sounds like the famous Chicago punchline, but the first one didn't take, I swear. Here's what happened:

After spending the day on the phone to various political offices and media outlets, Angela and I found out that the BOE was contacting the first 20 voters from our precinct to come back and cast another ballot. I don't know if it was the press inquiries, the pissed-off phone calls from citizens, or the threat of lawsuits from one candidate's lawyer (rumored), or some angry combo of the above, but something worked.

I left work early and ran back to the polling place. The election judges were very accommodating and apologetic, almost grovelingly so, and they marked the "spoiled ballot" box on my voter register and issued me a new ballot.

"Can I get a real pen this time?" I asked. And they said yes.

As I filled in my little arrow for Obama with visible ink, I started to cry -- out of relief and gratitude and, I'm not even kidding, pride in being an American and being able to vote. Voting is important, y'all. Don't let anyone stop you from doing it.

Replies: 29 Confessions

That is the most fucked-up thing! Where is your polling place?

Liza @ 02/05/2008 04:51 PM CST

The fire station at Greenleaf and Clark.

Amy C @ 02/05/2008 06:24 PM CST

Trib story here:,0,4184216.story

Way to go Amy!

Brenda @ 02/05/2008 06:45 PM CST


"I hope whoever was behind the magic pens gets sent to Gitmo," she said, referring to the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "Wouldn't that be great?"

Brenda @ 02/05/2008 06:46 PM CST

Okay, so the problem was they gave you the stylus pens for the touchscreen voting machines? Brilliant.

This could have been so easily avoided by making those pens a DIFFERENT COLOR.

Or by having polling officials that aren't idiots. But I think the color thing is probably more doable.

Brenda @ 02/05/2008 07:08 PM CST

Oh, the pens were a different color -- the election workers were just idiots.

Amy C @ 02/05/2008 07:23 PM CST

Damn, that magic pen.

Craig Gernhardt @ 02/05/2008 07:41 PM CST

Go fuck yourself, Craig.

Amy C @ 02/05/2008 07:49 PM CST

You're an idiot. You also make fun of God. Nice touch.

Mile @ 02/05/2008 08:07 PM CST

Invisible ink? That's so beyond insane...

Well I'm glad you got it resolved, anyway. An important lesson here. You only get as much democracy as you can shake out of the bastards.

And a note to Mile: God is a big doo-doo head and we are all pointing and laughing at him.

Phineas @ 02/05/2008 09:10 PM CST

She made fun of god, and told Craig to f off. She seems alright to me.

Al @ 02/05/2008 10:14 PM CST

Good for you, defending something most people take for granted or see as just a hassle.

The thing that gets me about the "invisible ink" is that the poll workers just accepted the idea as OK. "You can't see who you voted for? Well, OK then, since it's magic and all..." I'm not sure I want those people *near* my ballot, let alone handling it.

But again--good job, you.

ChgoRed @ 02/06/2008 08:21 AM CST

Al, nicely put. Although I'm not so sure God objects to humor, or even criticism. No one would put Craig on earth with real human beings, and not expect a few jokes and some complaining.

I guess Amy won't be telling people Craig's an okay guy anymore.

Thomas Westgard @ 02/06/2008 09:37 AM CST

I don't think I've ever said Craig is an OK guy, Tom.

Amy C @ 02/06/2008 09:41 AM CST

My question is, who is the jerk who made up this story in the first place, and how can we get this person demoted?

M.M. @ 02/06/2008 12:50 PM CST

The Sun-Times quoted you as saying that you consider yourself a "person of privelege." In the context of that paragraph that quote made me want to hate you, but then the media is nothing if not skilled at misrepresenting what people say. So, what did you mean by that?

robb @ 02/06/2008 02:06 PM CST

That's not my quote. That's the other woman interviewed for the article.

Amy C @ 02/06/2008 02:28 PM CST

Ah! I'm sorry - I skipped a sentence. Do you think she has a blog? I can go annoy her instead of you.

Thanks, I'll throw myself out.

robb @ 02/06/2008 03:04 PM CST

Wow- that's a horrible story. Next time call the WBEZ newsroom: 312-948-4650.

Andrew @ 02/06/2008 03:13 PM CST

wow and I was upset that my polling place was littered with campaign literature and I found a list in my booth of the canidates some group wanted voted in. sounds like you had a harrowing day at the polls, but good on ya! for getting your ballot cast.

eighmie @ 02/06/2008 03:13 PM CST

Hello Amy...thank you for all you have done.
To everyone else... I was the second person to vote in the 42nd precinct and immediately got on the phone to the BOE after my vote (& everyone else's) was rejected and had to place three phone calls before being assured that election inspectors were being sent. I returned to the polling place at 7:20 to see they were still using "magic pens" and to talk to the election inspectors. This is when I met Amy, we exchanged info and agreed to go to the news with the story. I contacted the Reader & the Sun Times and my partner contacted a lawyer from the Elder Campaign.

In response to Robb... please try not to hate me... I hate the way they took that quote out of context too. I believe I said "I recognize I have the privilege to return so that I can vote... what about the others who can't?" But, alas they cut the words differently. However, as a direct service provider for an agency that serves people are transitioning out of homelessness... I know to have shelter, to have clothes, a coat, and food today makes me a very privileged person.

angela @ 02/06/2008 09:09 PM CST

progressives tend to be rich white and stupid so none of this is surprising.

they are also liars, so i also won't be surprised when i find this incident cited as an example of "republican" vote tampering.

at least you voted for the "good" democratic.

jummy @ 02/07/2008 01:03 AM CST

Holy crappers! And I was annoyed that Bernie Stone had one of his henchmen standing outside the door to the polling place handing out cards telling me to vote for him as Clinton's delegate. Pfft! Nothing compared to this invisible ink nonsense. Glad you got to cast a real vote and good thing you raised a fuss or everyone else's vote after yours might not have counted, and no one would ever know.

Cinnamon @ 02/07/2008 08:49 AM CST

jummy, i don't know you and you don't know me. If you start from the assumption that white progressives tend to be dumb liars, you will have difficulty getting to know anyone who challenges that belief.

I'm concerned that instead of questioning the training or the authority situation set up in a polling place, many are content to criminalize the voices who alerted others that there was a problem.

The truth is from 6-7:20 am, despite contact with the BOE that began shortly after 6am, individuals voting in the 42nd precinct of the 49th ward did not have their votes count. Newspapers may misrepresent and take thoughts out of context... the election judges made a mistake... but the disenfranchisement is the same... some votes did not count on super tuesday.
This is what should upset us.

angela @ 02/07/2008 09:43 AM CST

Hi, Amy! Thanks for taking the time to fill my blog in on what really happened that day.

I added your statement to the main blog entry, to make sure everyone sees it. I also added you to my blogroll, under "Bloggers I'd like to meet". :-)

I am hoping this will lessen my penance. ;-)

ElfNinosMom @ 02/11/2008 01:55 PM CST

Good work. Your vote was counted, and those evil Repubicans didn't get away with this obvious conspiracy. George W.Bush is obviously involved in this caper.

mickey @ 02/11/2008 09:48 PM CST

Gosh, Mickey, are you being sarcastic?

For what it's worth, I think the election judges' incompetence is more likely a factor than party affiliation or conspiracies. In this instance, at least.

Amy C @ 02/12/2008 06:31 AM CST

And I bet you went into the polling place that morning, personal hatred for the GOP in your designer-handbag, looking for a beef with the so-called idiot poll workers. Put your money where your mouth is; I bet you weren't willing to volunteer your time to make sure the process is easy. I wish I could be a lib so I could sit and bitch and moan and blame everybody else for my problems.

CommonFreakingSense @ 02/12/2008 08:27 AM CST

You believe a lot of silly things, CommonFreakingSense.

Amy C @ 02/12/2008 05:01 PM CST

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