By Elizabeth Zakaim
Social Media Editor
Ashley Lai, a senior psychology and music double major, didn’t make it this far in her academic career without learning to plan ahead and participating in the election was no exception.
She knew that being a full-time student, a Brower Student Center employee and an e-board member of four out of the five clubs she is in meant she could not go home in the middle of the day to vote. She applied for a mail-in ballot in August, yet did not received it by Election Day or, in fact, at all.
Lai realized when she checked her mailbox on Election Day that she wouldn’t be voting by mail this election. While she acknowledged that she should have checked her mailbox sooner, she still intended to vote.
“I was really frustrated, and I tried call my county's office and they told methat my ballot was mailed at the end of September and that it wasn’t returned,” Lai said. The secretary told her there was no way she could vote unless she drove all the way back home.
Lai vented her frustration on Facebook where she found an unexpected solution. Someone commented on her post, suggesting she call a voter protection hotline. From there, she was told to call a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, which, according to its website, works to defend citizens’ constitutional rights. Lai was given a lawyer free of charge, and he defended her right to vote in court.
“I signed some forms, and he went in front of a judge,” Lai said. “In the end, I was able to vote via email.”
Voting by email is usually reserved for people serving overseas in the military, but in Lai’s case, the judge made an exception, and she was able to vote in the election.
When trying to figure out who is at fault, sophomore biology major Jessica Kopew did not blame the College or her county clerk's office receive her ballot until two days after the election. She said she had applied for it in either late September or early October.
“It could be Camden County itself, but I know plenty of people who don’t live in my county who didn’t get their mail-in ballot, so I think it's the post office," she said.
Anne-Marie Manko, the Camden County supervising elections clerk, said students who called to complain to the elections office about their ballots were those who applied too late. She said students also have to consider that the College’s mail system does not operate on weekends, and that the applications must be submitted at least a week before the election.
However, both Kopew and Lai said they did abide by those policies and did not receive their ballots on time. Lai said her only regret was waiting until Election Day to check her mailbox.
“If I do an absentee ballot again, I’m going to know this time that I should be getting it weeks in advance,” Lai said. “So if I don’t, I know to call in advance.”
Regardless of who is at fault, Lai said she was very annoyed when she realized she could not vote in the election.
She knew that a lot of other college students who also did not get their ballot on time. Lai said all of the mail-in ballots that did not come in time for the election could have made a difference.
The Supervisor of Mailing and Receiving Services at the College, Sebastiano Carnevale, denied that the late ballots were the College’s fault. Carnevale said the College gets its mail from the West Trenton Post Office around 9 a.m., and the mail gets distributed to the residence halls the same day that it arrives in the mailroom.
He said he saw a lot of ballots in the mail being sent and received. While he does occasionally get some service complaints, he did not receive any complaints from students about their ballots not being mailed to them on time.
Halbert C. Clark, the postmaster of the West Trenton Post Office, said he did not have time to discuss the issue, while other post office representatives could not be reached to comment.
There are other ways mail-in ballots might never reach their destination besides getting lost in the mail. According to npr.org, some applications weren’t accepted because they were filled out incorrectly or the signature on the ballot did not match the one on people’s voter registration forms.
Even if the ballots had been sent out on time, there was still room for error somewhere down the line.
According to cavotes.org, mail-in ballots that are mailed must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the appropriate county elections office no later than three days after Election Day.
Some county elections offices allow their website users to check if their mail-in ballots were received. The application for the ballot must be received by mail at least seven days before the election.
Lai said a lot of her friends were fed up with the application process. They didn’t vote because they didn’t feel like going through the hassle.
"I know some people don’t even bother with the application because they find it too annoying,” she said. “My friends have been throwing out this term ‘voter suppression.' It's so difficult for you to vote, and so you end up not wanting to vote.