Voting project overly ambitious

It has come to my attention that a number of students who requested absentee ballots through the Williams Voter Initiative (WVI) either never received them or received them too late to vote. I would like to take this opportunity to personally apologize to every one of those students and the Williams community as a whole. I firmly believe that each voice silenced in a democracy makes that society less free and less democratic. I can honestly say that I have been deeply troubled and upset by this unfortunate development on a very personal level. While I know that my own displeasure cannot offset this loss to the democratic system, please allow me to state that I have no excuses but can offer some explanations.

I would first like to explain the procedure that we took to procure absentee ballots. We tabled in Baxter, asking people if they wanted to receive an absentee ballot, and had them fill out some forms with their personal information. We then entered that information into each of the different states’ forms and mailed those to each student’s SU box to receive a signature. Each afternoon we collected the completed absentee ballot request forms from the box in Baxter mail room. We then mailed them out the next morning as we received them.Â

In some cases we did not personally mail them; they were handled by the MassVote coordinator who was responsible for Williams College. We continued this daily mailing procedure until Thursday, Oct. 24. Starting that day, we mailed the absentee ballots as before and also faxed the forms to the appropriate local government officials. We continued this until Tuesday, Oct. 29, at which point we recognized that a ballot could not get back here in time for people to vote. We have since contacted anyone who had given us a ballot request after that date letting them know that we could not mail it at that point.

If you were to try to guess which day your individual request was sent, it would have been one day after you gave it to us. There is no chance, however, that your ballot request would have been received later than the Oct. 29 deadline if you had given it to us by that time (if faxing were acceptable in your county).

Every ballot request had been either mailed in with at least five mailing days from that Oct. 29 date or faxed in. So, if your county accepted faxes (as I believe as almost all but those in Delaware do), then I am certain that at the very latest it would have been in on Oct. 29. It is more likely that it was received prior to that date.

The Oct. 29 date is so important because that is the date that most local county officials recommended that I get the forms in by. I can tell you that I personally contacted more local county clerks and elections officers than I care to discuss. At the same time, I am very disheartened by the widespread misinformation that I received concerning the timing of these requests from many of these individuals. If I had more experience with dealing with local governments, perhaps I could have anticipated their miscalculations; unfortunately, that was not the case.

My final explanation does not shift the blame onto anyone—I wholly accept it. It is simple: I have never conducted a project on this scale or of this complexity before. To my knowledge, no Williams voting drive had ever attempted to facilitate absentee ballot voting before, and I thought that the challenge was worthwhile and surmountable. We enlisted outside help from a state Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) that resulted in varying degrees of satisfaction. I realize now, in retrospect, that perhaps the task was too difficult for so small a group and that in some ways we failed. Nevertheless, I continue to think that the initiative was in large part successful.

Considering this misfortune, however, I do not think that this must be a wholly empty loss. I hope that this initiative’s shortcomings will inspire a younger group of students to put together a better project with better methods and better results. I am eager to help anyone who would take up this challenge in any way that I can.


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