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How I lost the right to vote

October 25, 2012 - Ilsa Matthes
Earlier this week I lost the right to vote. As far as I know, the fiasco has been sorted out, but I feel it is worth explaining how easy it is to be knocked off the voter roll and how hard it can be to get back on it.

Back in September I was visiting Bay College on assignment. It happened to be Constitution Day, an oft-forgotten holiday celebrating the signing of the Constitution in 1787, and local officials were holding a voter registration drive to celebrate.

I am not a born-and-bred Yooper, or even a born-and-bred Michigander. My voter registration information still put me somewhere in east-central Kansas, so I filled out the forms, signed them twice, and left, assured that my name would be added to the voter roll in a few minutes via an outdated-looking laptop.

I put the whole event out of my mind until last Monday when I received a letter from the Secretary of State’s Office.

The letter informed me that my driver’s license and voter registration had two different names. My license read, “Ilsa Marie Matthes,” my given name. My voter registration read, “Ilsa Marie Matthew,” a one letter typo.

“Therefore,” the letter continued, “it will be necessary to verify your correct name. Please bring this letter, your driver’s license, voter registration card, and proof of your correct name to any Secretary of State branch office.”

No one had ever given me a voter registration card — probably because my name was spelled wrong.

“It is imperative that you act on this matter within the next ten days. Failure to respond may result in your records being sent to our Investigations Division.”

I read that line over a few times. Were they really threatening to investigate me for voter fraud because of a typo that I didn’t make? Had I lost the right to vote because it wasn’t my name in the computer system?

To make matters worse, the letter was dated Oct. 18, postmarked Oct. 19, and didn’t reach my hands until the evening of Oct. 22. I didn’t have ten days to act — I had five.

The next day I left work early to visit the Secretary of State’s Office. I was greeted by a very nice woman, who had obviously never seen anything like my letter.

“You know you can’t vote now?” she asked as she photo copied my letter and driver’s license. “They didn’t register your name, and you don’t have a receipt to say you registered.”

It was true. I had no evidence to say it was me who registered that day and not an impostor who can’t spell.

The woman re-registered me to vote for after the general election, and assured me that I would not be charged with voter fraud — unless I was up to more than being a victim of a typo.

“You know,” I said, “you hear about ‘voter suppression all the time, but you never think you’re going to be the one who loses the right to vote.” She nodded and suggested I try to convince the county clerk to take pity on me.

Wednesday, I sent an email to the city clerk who registered me to vote. It should be noted that he is not my clerk — I live in a township — but, since he was one of the two people running the registration table, I thought he should know the dangers of typos.

A few hours later I received a phone call.

The city clerk, who was much nicer to me than I probably was in my email to him, urged me to ignore everything the woman at the Secretary of State’s Office had said about my registration being invalid, and contact the county clerk. He even gave me her number.

By this point, my plight had become a major topic of conversation around the office and anticipation was building. I had intended to visit the county clerk personally, letter-in-hand that afternoon, but in the end I opted for a phone call.

The county clerk did take pity on me. She took the spelling of my name and promised to get the record changed so that I would be able to vote in the general election.

She was more than a little annoyed to discover that I had been registered a second time at the Secretary of State’s Office. Now there was a possibility that there are two people named “Ilsa Matthes” in the system — but only one could vote on Nov. 6.

Today — Day 4 of this nonsense — I decided to take an early lunch and stop by the county building to make sure my registration was in order. It is a good thing I did, because they had filed my name wrong again, this time as “Ilsa Marie Mattes.”

I waited while they fixed the spelling again. When all was said and done I was informed that I would receive a voter registration card in the mail in the next few days.

“I’d bring that with you, just incase,” said the woman who had just completed updating my registration.

She assured me that if a second registration came through from the Secretary of State’s Office she would compare the information, but there would not be more than one “me” in the system.

Now the waiting game begins.

Theoretically, I will receive a voter card with my name on it — and maybe one for Ms. Mattes — in the next few days.

Theoretically, I will be allowed to vote on Nov. 6.

Theoretically, I won’t be receiving a call claiming that I have commit a felony by creating multiple voting identities or using an alias.



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The notorious letter.