To make sure his vote for John Kerry counted, Jeff Kessner ’07 went the distance—1,360 miles, to be exact, to his home in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Four years ago the county became infamous as the home of hanging chads. This year thousands of Palm Beach absentee ballots have failed to reach voters, reminding many of the crisis in 2000.
Kessner was one of these voters.
When in late October his ballot had still not arrived, Kessner called the election office and tried to have the ballot mailed overnight. He even asked if his family could pick up the ballot for him.
“I just felt like there was no way that I was going to get the ballot in time,” he said.
As the election drew closer, Kessner took matters into his own hands and arranged for a flight home so he could vote in person.
“For me it’s important,” he said. “I made sure that my vote counted.”
Florida is among 21 states that allow early voting, so Kessner waited in a six-hour line Saturday to cast his ballot. Early voting allows citizens to vote at a polling site before Election Day.
“All the residents down there are petrified that there will be problems at the machines,” he said. “They all went over the weekend.”
In the aftermath of chads and butterfly ballots, Palm Beach County has adopted electronic voting machines for this election.
“I didn’t have a problem,” Kessner said. “I saw what the butterfly ballot was in 2000, and to me [the electronic voting] was much clearer. They let you review it twice before it’s finalized. I don’t think it could be much clearer.”
With only two machines available for voting, and only six early voting locations in the county, as many as a thousand people waited in line with Kessner for the chance to vote early.
“There were so many people from the Kerry campaign and Bush campaign,” Kessner said. “They were handing out water to people on line so they would stay and wait and vote.”
Having spent the last months of the election race in Connecticut, which receives little attention from presidential candidates, Kessner said he was surprised at the volume of political advertising in Palm Beach.
“Just driving from the airport to the polling place, there were signs everywhere,” he said. “There were people standing on every corner with signs.”
Following the close election in 2000, where Bush won Palm Beach County, and thereby all of Florida, by 538 votes, Kessner said that voters in his county were much more informed this time around.
“No one’s apathetic,” he said. “Everyone wants their vote to be counted. Everyone knows how important one vote can be.”
Palm Beach County is only one of a number of counties all over the country reporting ballot tampering or other suspicious activities. In Broward County alone, 50,000 absentee ballots have disappeared.
“Maybe I’m naïve […] I really don’t think that it was maliciously intended,” he said. “I think it was incompetence. If there was going to be tampering, they’d do it in a place that’s more mixed. I feel like where I’m from it’s more Democratic.”
Kessner’s parents and friends have praised him for going to such lengths to vote.
“I think it is amazing,” said Amanda Hungerford ’07, a friend. “Jeff was able to put his own disillusionment aside in order to effect change.”
To Kessner, however, it was actually a selfish act.
“I did something to just get one more vote,” he said. “In some ways I feel like I could have done more throughout the whole campaign to get more votes.”
The WesDems have fielded questions from students who have also had problems with voter registration or absentee ballots.
“There’s probably tons of people out there who are in a similar situation but just don’t know it,” said WesDems President Betti Packman ’07.
Though some students have come to her with problems, Packman said things have gone relatively smoothly.
“[Tampering is] not something that we’ve personally run into,” she said.
Though his ballot may see more troubles on its way toward being counted, Kessner said he is sure that he did the right thing.
“I feel like no matter what happens, I will never look back on this with any regrets,” he said.