Absentee Voters Present at the Polls

THE Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has spoken, and life is not likely to be the same henceforth. All I have to go on is the story in our local paper about some election shenanigans, and I realize you may require a second opinion. Well, this is the local paper that pays no attention to the peculiar orthography of the language. It sometimes puts two "t's" in cat and leaves one out of dog. Connie Pratt, my cultured neighbor, was amused at first by a newspaper that couldn't sp ell, but became tired of it and wrote a letter to the editor, asking him to urge his staff to better efforts. The editor courteously printed her letter, but spelled her name wrong.

Anyway, it seems in last fall's voting, a lady candidate greeted incoming voters at the door with amiable hospitality and suggested perhaps they would like to step into this other room here and use absentee ballots, sparing a wait in line. I am not sure about the purity of electioneering in the polling place, but the candidate assured the investigating committee she did nothing wrong. I believe this, because my father always said that the woman's vote would clean up American politics and show the menfolk s how to be honest and upright. However, one voter said the lady candidate's kindness persuaded his/her vote. But that's all right.

What we should heed, rather, is this business of coming into the polling place to vote an absentee ballot. I don't know why a ballot clerk would be handing an absentee ballot to a voter who is right there at the polls, and I have been too busy to step out and inquire. But I do remember about Thomas Brackett Reed and his reforms in Congress.

Congressman Reed was a down-Mainer and became Speaker of the House. At once he was agitated by some of the House rules, and he sought some changes for the better. One rule had to do with the ascertaining of a quorum. The old rule was that a congressman could be at his desk, very much present, but if he didn't answer when the clerk called the roll, he was considered absent.

Speaker Reed would be ready to proceed, having a busy agenda, but he would consequently lack a quorum even though the chamber was full. Being a Mainer with logical attitudes, he felt this was absurd and said so. He instructed the clerk to mark a congressman present if he were in his place, whether he answered the roll or not.

Well! The first congressman to dissent was recognized by Speaker Reed pleasantly enough, and Speaker Reed said, "Does the gentleman rise to deny he's here?"

Later, Speaker Reed wrote his book, "Reed's Parliamentary Rules," and he remains our best authority on conducting a meeting. "Reed's rule" was a popular term in the late 1800s, and it meant you were there if you were there.

But now this is no longer so.

Our committee on election ethics seems to say that you can be there and be somewhere else at the same time. At least on voting day. This new arrangement should please just about everybody. Back in 1966, my wife and I spent several months in Europe, and before we left home in Maine we asked our town clerk to post us some absentee ballots for the fall election. We had to tell her that we would not be able to vote in person at our lawful polling place. So we were in the village of Freudenstadt in the Black Forest when we received a strong brown envelope from home with the required ballots. We got the ballots for candidates, and then a dozen or so smaller ballots, each, for proposed constitutional amendments and bond issues, and then we had to go find a notary public.

The lawyer we consulted explained that in Germany a jurat is made by an officer of the court, not by attorneys. He directed us to the proper place, and since he knew nothing about American absentee ballots, the official Notar needed much explaining before he consented to serve us. Then, he wanted to see how we voted, and in about 20 minutes we convinced him this was secret. So he entered each jurat in a huge book, charging three marks for each ballot, and we went to the post office. It was some $7 postag e home, plus the customs paperwork, and we learned later that everybody we voted for and every issue we supported was soundly defeated back home.

But we really and truly were absentee.

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