As Deadline to Request Mail Ballots Nears, Frustrating Kinks in the System Continue

After 244 years, you'd think America would have this voting thing down. You'd be wrong.EXPAND
After 244 years, you'd think America would have this voting thing down. You'd be wrong.
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Jody O’Callaghan lives in Dallas County, but these days her life — thanks, COVID — is in Salt Lake City.

For finding a Plan B in the middle of a pandemic, it works. For attempting to vote in the 2020 elections, however, it merely magnifies a broken system.

“The mechanism that allows my vote to count is a mess,” O’Callaghan says. “But I’ll jump through as many hoops as is necessary. Whatever it takes. This year, it’s that important.”

Forced into a second career as a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines when COVID interrupted the face-to-face interaction crucial to her therapy and counseling business, O’Callaghan still owns her house in Rowlett. But her new hub, complete with temporary housing, is 1,200 miles west. She will not be “home” during Texas’ early voting period nor on Election Day, Nov. 3.

For the past two weeks, she’s been frantically attempting to request an absentee ballot via mail, so far, with lots of frustration and little luck.

“I’m determined,” she says. “I just hope and pray others in Dallas who encounter these same hurdles don’t just give up.”

At this point, O’Callaghan is worried her request for a mail-in ballot won’t reach election officials before Friday’s deadline to file the request for the 2020 general election.

Her effort to get a ballot began Oct. 5 at Texas secretary of state's website, which led her to votetexas.gov. The process has also featured stops at the state’s elections division, the early voting clerk and phone calls and emails with Dallas County elections.

During an automated call with the county’s helpline, O’Callaghan struggled to navigate a phone tree she says failed to give her detailed instructions about acquiring a ballot. She pressed “0” for live help, but hung up in frustration after 90 minutes on hold.

“There is a glitch,” she says. “I called several times. Once I followed instructions but wound up with no resolution and no more options. A dead end. Another time I just kept getting a message that said, ‘I’m sorry. I do not understand your entry” when all I was doing was pressing buttons!”

During her final attempt, O’Callaghan in frustration furiously entered “a whole bunch” of random buttons that prompted a message inexplicably confirming multiple ballots would be mailed to her. But at that point, she was requesting only one ballot. And she had yet to enter her address.

“I’m not saying it’s intentional voter suppression,” she says. “But at the very least it’s a system that’s outmoded and overloaded. Can we call it systemic inefficiency? Whatever it is, we can’t afford it right now.”

O’Callaghan last week emailed the Dallas County elections office. Subject line: “I WANT TO VOTE!!!” Body: “PLEASE FIX THE SYSTEM!!!!!”

When no ballot arrived at her home address via mail late Monday afternoon, O’Callaghan headed out the door to a Salt Lake City public library to print a ballot request form. Then she headed to a FedEx office in hope of finding a fax machine.

“It just makes me mad,” she says. “There are probably people out there that need absentee ballots. But if they can’t work that unworkable system and get one mailed, then they’ve got to have a printer and the time and money and gumption to go to multiple businesses and piece things together. It just shouldn’t be this difficult to do the most American thing and vote.”

Repeated calls to the Dallas County elections office were unreturned. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced last week that more than 450,000 absentee ballots were cast in the first three days of early voting.

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