Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ballotpedia to me: Get a lawyer

I sent the following message through a web form to Ballotpedia (I screenshotted it or there would be no record): 


In 2018, they were very responsive to a different request so I was disappointed that a question about the sort of information that they regularly publish was treated as a legal inquiry rather than a suggestion to gather and share information that would allow voters to make better decisions.

What do you think of this response? Maybe my message was not clear enough? I greatly admire this organization, despite it being founded by a Libertarian and have used it when teaching civics. I believe that citizens living abroad need to know which states permit them to vote in local elections. I'm glad that at least one organization, Democrats Abroad, is providing that info on their wiki at this time: 

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Ballotpedia Editor <editor@ballotpedia.org>
Date: Tue, Jul 28, 2020 at 7:21 AM
Subject: Re: What US States only permit overseas or abroad citizens to vote in federal elections?
To: <alee@alexanderplee.com>


Hello Alexander,

Thank you for contacting Ballotpedia! It is our policy that we do not offer legal advice, and this question would be considered legal advice. We would recommend consulting with a lawyer about this question. Sorry we couldn't be of more help!

Sincerely,
Megan

 

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Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Sent from my iThang

Friday, July 10, 2020

Letter to Congressman's Office on USPS Preparation for Elections

How Will Overseas Voters Find Info They Need for Remaining Primaries and General Election?

I spent an hour this evening (China time, starting just after 9:15 AM ET) on hold with USPS's 1-888-275-8777 toll-free number before giving up. I did try leaving your office a VM, but am also following up with this email.

Essentially, it is very difficult to find Section 8 (see below) and I think it would serve overseas voters better if the USPS had, front and center on their website, readily available information on postage-paid envelope specs (e.g., dimensions, weights) for returning a) ballots, b) the FPCA, and c) a FWAB.

For understandable reasons, the Dept of State consular offices who place our sealed ballots in a diplomatic pouch have indicated that they do not want to act as a post office, rejecting or accepting envelopes based on size or weight or indicia. It is the responsibility of the citizen to properly follow all USPS guidelines, but it is exceedingly difficult to find (on the USPS website) how big an envelope (i.e., US size 10) one is permitted to use for a postage-paid envelope that will travel by diplomatic pouch back to the USA. This information was provided to me by FVAP, which has been helpful, but many voters will turn to the USPS for info about how to mail a ballot and will be unawares of the FVAP office nested in DoD.

Section 8 at https://pe.usps.com/text/DMM300/703.htm?q=ballot&h=ballot&t=H&s=R&p=1&c=DMM|QSG does have some helpful information, but this is not particularly accessible to the layperson. I am wondering if anything can be done soon and ahead of the election to make this information easier for overseas voters to find. I can imagine that even domestically, people will be turning to the USPS for information on how to mail their absentee ballots and may have a hard time finding the info that they need.

Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Thursday, July 9, 2020

"Whataboutism" (Red Lives Matter)

臭蟲論  

(with credit to Lu Xun[1])

What about 1495 in addition to 1619?

What about 1962 in addition to 1865/1965?

What about Jorden Stephens in addition to George Floyd?

Can we make the Washington, Donehogawa Commonwealth or District of Crazy Horse (Tȟašúŋke Witkó)? Should Washington itself become Pulaski or Rush? Who really is pure enough to deserve this honor (asked ironically)? The man who saved Washington or the doctor whose students killed him—abolitionists both, though Rush a demonstrable racist.

Are there statues of General Stand Watie that need to be torn down?

Why is there no Gen. Ely Parker (Donehogawa) statue?

Why do Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima ride off into the sunset before the Redskins or the Indians? Is it tyranny of the minority majority?

You want to talk about Joseph Vann?  Let's talk about Buffalo Soldiers.

It is high time to name a federal holiday for a day when a white general came to Galveston, Texas, and announced that a white President's words bestowed freedom upon the remaining slaves, but why don't we name it with the Karankawa word for the sixth month of the year instead of naming it after June. [2] Or maybe we should make the day that white men in Utah in 1962 finally bestowed the franchise on American Indians a federal holiday.

-------------------

[1] "A synonymous Chinese-language metaphor [for whataboutism] is the "Stinky Bug Argument" (traditional Chinese: 臭蟲論; simplified Chinese: 臭虫论; pinyin: Chòuchónglùn), coined by Lu Xun, a leading figure in modern Chinese literature, in 1933 to describe his Chinese colleagues' common tendency to accuse Europeans of "having equally bad issues" whenever foreigners commented upon China's domestic problems. As a Chinese nationalist, Lu saw this mentality as one of the biggest obstructions to the modernization of China in the early 20th century, which Lu frequently mocked in his literary works." (Wikipedia)
[2] The Latin name for June is Junius. Ovid offers multiple etymologies for the name in the Fasti, a poem about the Roman calendar. The first is that the month is named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage and the wife of the supreme deity Jupiter; the second is that the name comes from the Latin word iuniores, meaning "younger ones", as opposed to maiores ("elders") for which the preceding month May (Maius) may be named. Another source claims June is named after Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic and ancestor of the Roman gens Junia. (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Difficulty of Voting from Abroad in the Time of COVID-19

As the head of a social studies department at a reputable Guangzhou high school,  I care about American history and, as a lawyer and amateur civil rights activist, I know something about poll taxes. Paying to send my ballot through China Post, EMS, DHL, UPS (the green option), FedEx (which may rise to the occasion and mail US ballots for free!), etc. is, in my opinion, possibly a poll ta. Even if I might, personally, be able to send my ballot in a platinum envelope by private jet...which I cannot, there are those who cannot. That is why Americans overseas are able to send ballots through their consulates' diplomatic pouches. Yet, I also understand from the consular officer who just called me that it is a service but not a requirement, dependent on volume (which, incidentally, is very low now), that the consulates accept ballots to be mailed in this fashion. 

Mailing out ballots without a poll tax is discretionary in 2020!?

At approximately 10:40 AM today, I entered the US Consulate in Guangzhou passing two male security guards at different checkpoints with my backpack and proceeded to the door of the security checkpoint where a young woman was helping another American with a green card. After she finished helping him I told her I was there to mail my ballot and she said that I needed an appointment. I insisted on being seen, explaining that staff were supposed to be retrained in January or February  after my last visit where I was told that mailing a ballot does not require an appointment, and, at that point, she asked me if I spoke Chinese, then summoned another guard who spoke English. That guard had me call American Citizen Services and they required my name (just my name) so that they could call the door guards to let me in. They let me in and then told me that since I had a laptop in my bag, I would need to leave and come back. 

At about 11:10 AM, I came back, bearing only keys and a cell phone, which I left at the door in a cubby, and thanked them politely. 

Then, I went to the window on the second floor with my envelope which I believed was too large for postal regulations. I asked if it was an acceptable size and she asked me to wait while she went to check and then she returned saying I was all set and I could just email them, like last time, to get the tracking number. I do not blame this person for doing a poor job in checking the size requirements, but I am worried that others' ballots will be rejected by USPS somewhere along the chain (or even by some consulates) because they do not meet size requirements. This possible objection to ballots needs to be resolved! 

At about 12:10 pm, I called to say that I was confused because I did not think my ballot was the right size and they told me the person who handled it would call me back and let me know if I needed to return to retrieve it. Imagine returning to retrieve a voted ballot when the staffer at American Citizen Services did not even check my passport, although, to her credit, the door staff did check my passport after I was forced to call and give my name. 

I received the promised call at about 1:25 PM Tuesday in China and it was from a male consular staffer who was very helpful, professional, and understanding, not the Chinese staffer who had helped me, who was also helpful. I have messaged them now and asked for the tracking number. They will also RE-confirm that the envelope size is appropriate. I hope this information is helpful for you as we strive to improve the overseas American voting experience ahead of the remaining primaries and November 2020 General Election. Thank you. Apologies for being such a strident, Kafkaesque character, but given the alacrity with which these problems need to be solved I do not know how else to communicate efficiently with those who need to know about these problems.  I hope they are local and not happening across the globe.

Alexander Lee
Guangzhou, China 🇨🇳 

PS I buried the lede: I was almost turned away again from the same consulate. If I was not versed in my rights, I would have left when the first guard asked me to. This really is not acceptable, even in this plagued time, given past correspondence with this consulate to which this message is a reply.




---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Guangzhou ACS <GuangzhouACS@state.gov>
Date: Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 12:13 PM
Subject: Re: Voting
To: VoteBEIJING <VoteBEIJING@state.gov>, CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov <CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov>, alee@alexanderplee.com <alee@alexanderplee.com>
CC: Aaron Kruse <aaronmkruse@gmail.com>, ada shen <ada.shen@gmail.com>


Mr. Lee,

Thank you for taking the time to email with your feedback. Your ballot was well received this morning and we have reminded our staff that U.S. Citizens do not require an appointment to deliver their ballots, even during this difficult time.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Best regards, 

Carrie

Guangzhou American Citizen Services Unit

U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou | 美国驻广州总领事馆

43 Hua Jiu Road, Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China 510623 | 广州市珠江新城就路43号,510623

Tel:  (020) 3814 5775

Fax:  (020) 3814 5572

 

After hour emergencies:  (010) 8531 4000

Email: guangzhouacs@state.gov

Website:  http://china.usembassy-china.org.cn

 

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From: Alexander Lee <alexander.p.lee@gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, February 7, 2020 11:07 AM
To: VoteBEIJING <VoteBEIJING@state.gov>; CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov <CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov>; Guangzhou ACS <GuangzhouACS@state.gov>
Cc: Aaron Kruse <aaronmkruse@gmail.com>; ada shen <ada.shen@gmail.com>
Subject: Voting
 
To Whom It May Concern:

In light of the coronavirus, it is understandable that an appointment may eventually be needed for all American Citizen Services in China, Hong Kong, and other places in the world. On Wednesday, in Guangzhou, I was turned away with my completed ballot and asked to make an appointment. Today, I brought my ballot and it will go in the next diplomatic pouch. I received very good service at the counter and want to thank you for helping Americans fulfill their sacred duty to vote during this troubling time, when so much else weighs upon us.

I hope that at all consulates across China and in Beijing's embassy facility, the paid Chinese security personnel can be reminded that nobody who appears to mail a ballot, even in this trying time, should be turned away...as I understand that is still the policy.

Thank you and sorry to add to your burden during this busy and trying time.

Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee