Ballad of the Rejected Ballot Applicant

Absentee Ballot Application 1: 

Once it became clear that Covid was going to linger through primary election season, I was grateful to learn that I would not have to break my Covid quarantine to perform this most essential duty. The State of Ohio offers mail-in voting. Easy! Once I printed out my application, I urged my husband to apply as well. I nested our two applications in the same envelope, fully expecting to receive two ballots in return. This is what we received instead: My husband got a ballot. I got a rejection—a check mark in the box next to: no signature

My instant response was one of deep shame. Could I have forgotten to sign my name? I’d been so excited. Had I been too excited, so eager to mail the envelope that I didn’t  notice I hadn’t signed the form? It didn’t seem possible. But it didn’t seem entirely impossible, either. Who was I to call The Hamilton County Board of Elections a liar?  I make mistakes sometimes.

I considered sending a second application form to vote absentee in the primary. But at that point, I didn’t think it likely I’d receive a ballot in time. So I gave up on voting in the primary. 

My shame only increased as I saw footage of people braver than myself enduring long lines in the primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia. Surely some of those voters were also coping with multiple autoimmune diseases, yet they were out there, risking the possibility of Covid. What made me more special than them? Nothing. And what about all those voters before us who had risked their lives, even lost their lives, to exercise their right to vote? 

Missing the primary was bad, even if my preferred Democratic nominees had dropped out of the race by that point anyway. 

Missing the November election would be inexcusable.

Absentee Ballot Application 2: 

I downloaded the application for an absentee ballot for November’s election. This time, I was going to do it right. I made sure I signed the form. I made sure I took a picture of the form,  signature and all. 

And this time I got the same response as before—a check mark in the box next to: no signature

Gentle reader, you might be looking at my signature, and conceding that the Hamilton County Board of Elections may have a point. I know. I know. My husband describes my signature is “a bit whack.” When I was a teenager, folks used to look at that very same signature and tell me I would grow up to be a doctor. Would you take the right to vote away from a doctor? Then why take it away from her patient?


I left a possibly indignant message on the Hamilton County Board of Elections answering machine, and then I went ahead and printed out, filled out, and photographed…

Absentee Ballot Application 3: 

A few days after I mailed my third application for an absentee ballot from the Hamilton County Board of Elections, I received a phone call from a kind sounding lady, who was responding to my (possibly less than kind?) phone message. She dredged up my paperwork and the original signature they had on file, and described it to me as having a loop and a few small bumps, and then a big bump and then a line, as opposed to my most recent signature, which she described as having a bump, and then another bump, and then a tail. 

Gentle Readers, I played my disability card. I explained I have multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disabling disease. My signature was likely to have deteriorated over time. She recommended I send another application, and to add her initials to the outside of the envelope this time. 

The truth is, I remember the first time I signed my name to a vote in Hamilton County. It was many years—and perhaps as many brain lesions ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was a big deal to me. Voting is always a big deal to me. I remember I signed my name very slowly, and very deliberately, summoning up each and every letter as neatly as I could. I gave it all I got, gussied up my signature in high heels for the government. And I remember a flash of anxiety…would I ever be able to duplicate this signature? Had I made the wrong move? Gentle Reader, I had made the wrong move entirely.  

A few days later, I received an Authorization to Update Signature on Registration Record from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The form contained two more opportunities to affix my signature. I tried to keep the two signatures as similar to each other as possible, so as to keep them from cancelling each other out. 

When I mailed that form, I thought I’d made my case. I kind of figured I’d get a ballot back. No such luck. 

Last week, I felt a flutter of anxiety as I watched Michelle Obama lean toward the camera and exhort us to persist. 

“We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they’re received.”

Tonight, I downloaded: 

Absentee Ballot Application 4. 

I signed my ballot application. I took a picture of it. I put two stamps on the envelope for good measure. (And for the good of the postal service, which is in just as much peril as our right to vote.)

And then I wrote this blog post.  I asked my husband what he thought of it. He responded, “If you want to make your argument more forceful, I would say, do not include your signature.” 

“But this is my signature!” I protested. 

Here’s the problem: if I were to try to reproduce my signature in high heels, I would be likely to fail. Would I scrawl sensible heels one time, and nine inch heels the next? My natural signature is mildly inconsistent. I fear a fancified signature would be madly inconsistent. 

Besides, don’t you think my current signature goes nicely with the wavy logo on the Hamilton County Board of Elections? Could maybe, this time, we all just get along and go with the flow?

Maybe not. My current signature doesn’t look like my signature in Absentee Ballot Application 2! 

If someone is motivated to reject it, they will reject it. Maybe not now.

Maybe on Election Day. 

Should I just give up? Vote in person? I have never had my signature questioned in person. People are nicer in person, don’t you think?

Wish me luck. Wish the fate of our democracy luck.

8 thoughts on “Ballad of the Rejected Ballot Applicant

  1. Lisa – I hope a letter to the editor and calls to your Congressional delegation can help – this is so disgusting and blatant. They don’t care if they steal the election in plain sight – they don’t give a damn. A letter to the editor of your paper might, maybe, embarrass a few people, reveal their perfidy, maybe? How many others got the same treatment – thousands? YOUR VOTE COUNTS – and luckily you are smart and pro=active and angry – YES!

  2. If all else fails, can your husband sign as a witness? In MY I requested absentee ballots. Hubby was able to sign, though it was painful. It did have a space to make a “mark” and have a witness sign. I hope they went through so we don’t have to take a chance with our health and vote in person. Best wishes, Lady. Hope yours goes through this time.

    1. Thank you! I am also considering adding a photocopy of my driver’s license, which boasts the same flare of a signature. My biggest concern is that signatures are not as immutable as thumbprints or iris images, and yet they are treated as such. A judgement of a fingerprint’s authenticity can be awfully subjective—and politicized. (What can’t be politicized these days?) I live in a “purple” state where the overall vote can go democratic or republican; if enough voters are disenfranchised, the arbiters of our signatures will call the race.

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