I became concerned about the status of my registration when my absentee ballot failed to arrive in the mail two weeks ago, as it has every single year since 2001 (the first year I voted), so I finally called the San Bernardino County (CA) registrar to inquire about it. Apparently my ballot had indeed been mailed, but it just plain disappeared. The person on the other end informed me that a new ballot would be mailed, and that the old one would be voided. I asked how I would know if the ballot I ultimately received and filled out was the new one or the old one, and they basically told me not to worry about it - that if I get a ballot in the next few days, it's probably the new one they would be sending now. My concerns have not been allayed.
California is obviously not a swing state, so there is zero concern that any shenanigans could flip it, but the popular vote plays a very important role in public perception of a candidate's performance. The very different aftermaths of 2000 and 2004 make this painfully clear - the one with a Democratic popular vote victory provoked arduous legal battles and protests, ongoing public scrutiny of the state-level process well beyond Election Day, and a cloud of illegitimacy around George W. Bush, while the latter where the reported popular vote agreed with the official result was accepted virtually without question despite massive unresolved anomalies.
In light of the nationwide narrative being pushed by Republicans - and uncritically parroted by their obedient media - that Mitt Romney is on track to win the popular vote despite strong evidence to the contrary, I am more than a little concerned about my personal experience. When you add in the fact that for the first time in ages there will be no exit polls in non-competitive states this year - i.e., the key validation tool of the final numbers will not be undertaken - and the fact that dubious pollsters are reporting late gains by Mitt Romney in California with no apparent political or demographic explanation (we're more racially diverse, more Democratic, and more politically progressive than ever), my Spider Sense is tingling off the charts. Not only would there be no explanation for such a thing actually occurring, there would be no motivation for Republicans to falsely claim it is if they were actually trying to win real votes: Creating a perception of nonexistent gains in an overwhelmingly hostile state just motivates turnout among numerically superior opponents.
I live in a heavily Republican city in a heavily Republican county, and yet I've not seen a single Romney/Ryan bumper sticker or yard sign - not one, anywhere. That doesn't mean they aren't there, obviously, but it suggests something about their relative enthusiasm in this conservative bastion this election season. Frankly, the line the media and Romney campaign are trying to sell seems to have no connection to the reality on the ground: None, that is, except for the troubling fact of manifest acts of Republican election fraud and voter suppression occurring in other parts of the country, the sudden and inexplicable curtailment of exit polling (the announcement was only made October 4th), the historical advantages of the popular vote in discouraging inquiries into the legitimacy of the result, and my own unprecedented experience playing Godot with my absentee ballot.
I don't know if this has happened to others in my county and state, how many, and if there are any eyebrow-raising correlations among them (e.g., being registered Democrats). That is definitely something I hope can be looked into if this is indeed part of a widespread pattern. If it is happening on a broader scale, not everyone who fails to receive their absentee ballot would necessarily act to get another one in time, which could thus have a net voter suppression effect; and if it were part of something more egregious - albeit certainly less likely - there's no guarantee (as far as I know) that out of two votes from the same person, the one they actually cast would be counted as the legitimate one. I sought assurances to that effect when I contacted the Registrar's office, but they didn't seem to really have an answer - I think they just plain didn't know, and probably have never confronted the issue before.
Absentee voters sign their ballots, but if I understood correctly, it would never get to the point of comparing those signatures because one of them would be automatically discarded as per the Registrar having voided the one reported as not having arrived, so that particular means of validation is out the window. And they're not going to contact the voter to ask them to come down and verify which ballot is theirs, since they probably can't under the law as a secret ballot election. So how do I know which ballot I'm marking, and how do I verify that my vote is received, counted, and recorded accurately? I understand the need for some level of faith in my fellow citizens who monitor and conduct the elections, but as far as my (imperfect) personal knowledge of the system in this county goes, the safeguards appear to be inadequate.
In addition, I also don't know who, apart from the Registrar already contacted, should be made aware of it in order to make that judgment. Now, in isolation my ballot situation would be innocuous enough - however unusual, sometimes things are just plain lost in the mail - but in context, with so many untoward things going on and a zero-sum outcome on the line, it does us no good to be obtuse and treat denial as an option. We know the kind of people we face, we know what they're capable of, and they've practically advertised their intentions in flashing neon lights. Every last legal thing they can do to sabotage the election they are doing with gusto - voter ID, limiting voting hours, providing inadequate numbers of ballots and machines, etc. etc. - and they've already been caught doing illegal things to achieve the same objective (e.g., intimidating workers in states where there are laws against it, throwing out voter registrations, etc.). There is no reason to think they won't take it exactly as far as they are logistically capable of doing, and as far as I can see, that's all the way.
Not only have I never before failed to receive a ballot, I've never failed to receive any expected piece of mail at this address in all of that time either. Not one, ever, and what's most troubling is that I'm not even surprised - there has been a gathering storm of one-sided anomalies around this election for some time, and the fact that for the first time ever I've personally experienced one just seems like part of a natural progression. If the conclusion of this process is equally predictable, we have a big problem.