A Vote for Common Sense Via the German Post Office

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Every candidate of any party that I have seen protesting his or her virtues on TV this time has promised to reduce taxes, and I have just cast my absentee ballot 10 days early. This included my decisions on 19 questions that will increase taxes. According to my experienced projection, based on all previous balloting, the voters of Maine will approve all 19 propositions, and then will nominate candidates who say they will reduce taxes. Check me on that, and send all comments to Cassandra.

This is my second experience with absenteeism, and the process has been much simplified. Being incarcerated in a select retreat for gracious senior living, the wife and I stick around to get our money's worth, so we wrote to our residual town clerk, and the lovely lady did the rest. We didn't even need a notary, and it doesn't take long to vote "no" 19 times.

Our previous absentee voting was in 1966. We were in Europe, and our ballots - mailed from Maine - caught up with us in Freudenstadt, or Joytown, in the Black Forest. We had bided at the Hotel Post for the Black Forest Schinken, the two spiegeler, castle potatoes, and the "mits," or what are known in Maine lumber camps as "with-its." The Hotel Post, as the finest kind, was most appropriate, as the date was our wedding anniversary. The desk clerk had handed us the impressive envelope and asked if she might have the postage stamps for her collection when we had done with them.

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At that time, an absentee ballot needed a notary public jurat on it. So we asked the clerk to direct us to a lawyer. Back home, every lawyer was a notary, but when we found a German lawyer, he was not. The gentlemen was in his shirtsleeves, idle at his desk, and at our approach he anticipated a retainer and leaped up to put on a jacket, shoot his cuffs, and pat his haircut into place. When he found we merely wished a "notar," he dismissed us quickly by pointing across the street at the government building. The notar was a public official. We found him.

He shook hands and wished us welcome, opening a long book in which he made record of his jurats, and then looked over our foreign absentee ballots with doubting scrutiny. He had never seen any, and had no idea what they were for. I said "Macht Nichts!" ("it doesn't matter!") dozens of times as I tried to tell him he was only to witness our signatures.

He insisted we should show him how we voted on each candidate and on each referendum issue, and we kept saying "Nicht gestattet" ("not permitted") and "Strafbar!" ("punishable!") until the poor man was distraught at the fear of illegal complicity. He couldn't understand how he could witness something when he didn't know what it was. And he showed us he had set down each proposition and each candidate on separate lines in his big book, bringing our indebtedness to a mark for each line.

I did notice, as I looked at his book, that the last entry before ours was in 1924. Duly notarized at last (with a rubber stamp), our ballots were sealed in the return envelope, and Herr Notar gave us directions to the post office. I signed a traveler's check, and he was gone 15 minutes to cash it at a bank and fetch my six marks' change. We shook hands, a German requirement at any opportunity, and he wished us good traveling. We had voted absentee.

Freudenstadt is delightful. Bombed to smithereens by the French as a parting pleasure on the very last day of war, the town rebuilt thoughtfully, and the new construction makes a quadrangle with arcades. The post office has a central spot, and there we hied, looking into shop windows on the way, and speaking "Guten Morgen" to amiable Freudenstadters we met.

Inside the post office, and behind a counter, sat a good-looking young woman. I wondered once again about a people who use a language in which their feminine beauty is "it." Das Mdchen, das Fraulein. The young lady arose and shook hands, and I passed her the official return town-clerk envelope from back home. Not the one with the Yankee stamps on it. We'd give those to the hotel neuter.

OUR young lady in the Freudenstadt post office hefted our envelope in her hand, and then laid it on a scales. She looked at the balance, and then shook her head in disbelief. It would cost a small Black Forest fortune to buy stamps for this! "Wer sollt das bezahlen," runs the German song ("We will pay it"). "Wer hat soviel Geld?" ("Who has so much money?") Then, presumably answering her own doubts, she thought, "The foolish Americans!" and told me my price.

She adroitly moistened the stamps, affixed them artistically, and smiled pretty much inside out as she handed me my ballots all ready to go. In perfect English she said, "You'll find a postal pillar at the exit, to your left." Then, "Guten Tag, auf wiederseh'n!"

Every candidate we voted for was defeated, and every proposition we gave an aye was defeated. But we did have our happy memory of casting our ballots in Freudenstadt.

Anticipating our return, the hotel clerk had brought in some stamp albums for us to inspect. She showed us where she would put the stamps we gave her. And at 3 a.m. the next morning, to allow for the time difference, we got our telephone call from home. All was well, and we were in the Black Forest, and we had voted. Well, we'd explain about that after we came back. We were about to retire when the night watchman came to inquire if our call to America had been satisfactory, and we shook hands with him and went to bed.

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