Archive for voting

Politics to Pastry: What Writers Share When They Blog

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

A novelist I greatly admire wrote her last blogpost in September. Catriona McPherson, formerly of the Femmes Fatales, declared that that with the election ahead, so much work needed to be done that she felt it useless to write about “cats and courgettes”—nor did she want to turn her blogposts into a political soapbox.

Catriona (pronounced Catrina) comes from Scotland and is one of the funniest mystery authors on the planet. She was writing with a wink, but the truth is, writers are constantly self-censoring. It occurs when we write novels—editing out lots to make them better—and when we offer up essays to the internet or print publications. We become known for one thing—and people expect us to be amusing. Typically, we keep dark, pressing worries and political opinions to ourselves.

During the months after Catriona quit blogging, her activism was substantial. She penned 240 personal handwritten letters and mailed them to voters all over the country in the Vote Forward movement, something I also participated in (with just 40 letters written). Currently, Catriona’s working on letters to voters in Georgia. All the while she did this, she launched a new novel, The Turning Tide, featuring her clever and charming Mitfordesque heroine, Dandy Gilver, who lives in 1930s Scotland.

I’m glad Catriona put her priorities the way she needed this fall. And we’ve got to credit today’s readers for their choices. Since the pandemic, reader choices are trending toward social activist and apocalyptic books. Although there’s nothing wrong with the historical novels we write, either!

You might be reading this particular blogpost because you follow Murder is Everywhere, a blog built by ten writers whose crime fiction set outside of the US. Or you’ve found my blogposts cross-posted to my website and Goodreads and my Amazon page. Some information you are learning about me—the protests I participate in for Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, post office service and voting inclusion—is probably not the reason you Googled me. Yet I am someone who writes about a female lawyer in 1920s India whose concerns are national emancipation and civil rights for women. What I care about is probably not a shock.

Writing about politics is most definitely allowed in Murder is Everywhere, and I learn a lot listening to the accounts of my fellow bloggers, especially when they draw cultural parallels with the past or in other countries. You must sample the words of my co-conspirators Annamaria Alfieri, Cara Black, Kwei Quartey, Caro Ramsey, Zoe Sharp, Jeff Sigler, Michael Stanley, and Susan Spann to get a taste of politics and pastry around the world.

I’m pleased that there are enough of us writing that I only need contribute every other week. Fourteen days are a lot of time for events to break and then recede and for my mood to change from outraged to mellow. I can almost guarantee I’ll be writing about holiday cooking within the next few weeks and post pictures of adorable dogs on the hunt for crumbs.

The cozy and the distressing, all part of the world we live in, and I thank you for being here.

What a Wednesday

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

In the early hours of Wednesday November 4, I am running on fumes and bittersweet chocolate.

I stayed awake much of Tuesday night, watching and waiting as the votes roll in for the 2020 presidential election. Where was the easy win for Biden that I expected?

I voted about a month ago, as an absentee, which in Maryland meant that I filled out a ballot the Board of Elections mailed to my home. I then carried it to a locked ballot box placed outside one of my favorite places, the Baltimore Museum of Art. Two days later, I got an email saying my ballot was received, and a few weeks after that I was notified that my vote had been counted.

My situation was pretty ideal, and I appreciate Maryland’s decision to start counting absentee ballots as they arrive, rather than waiting to open the envelopes on election night, as is happening in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania and other swing states, the mail has been markedly slow, and many people didn’t get absentee ballots in time, and don’t have an assurance that their board of elections has their ballot to count.

The waiting game is not new for me. As a writer, I must have patience with myself to make it through the process of writing a book… and then seeing the publisher bring it to the bookshelf. As a mother who adopted two children internationally, I had long waits that were filled with longing and worry for the babies who could not join me right away.

Currently, I am waiting for a vaccination against the coronavirus that might be on the market by springtime… or some other time.

56 years of waiting have revealed that obsessing about the worst, while waiting, doesn’t change the outcome—or the way I feel, once destiny is revealed.

What I did today, to get through the wait for election results, I spent my day going through a copy edited manuscript, doing some light cooking. Almost all day I live-streamed rousing alternative rock and funk from my favorite radio station, the Current, based in Minneapolis. I don’t usually fill my day with live radio, but this time I welcomed the distracting beat.

I kept walking my dogs. After lunch, I drove over to the polling station at Barclay Elementary School and smiled to see a line of people almost as long as the block. Someone was playing music on their phone, and there was a festive sound to people’s conversations. I drove to another larger polling place, where there was no line, making me think the staffing and organization was efficient, or more voters in that area had filed absentee ballots.

When you work as a campaign volunteer—as I have in the prior three presidential elections—you get a small, personal snapshot of what’s going on. It usually feels very optimistic, and I am good at talking myself into thinking the rest of the country is like the people I’m talking to.

But at the moment, my spirit is stressed. I suspect I’ll be at a “Count Every Vote” demonstration on the street later today. I voted for Biden-Harris, for many reasons, including Trump’s reckless endangerment of people’s lives by not mounting a serious pandemic response. I thought that the rising death toll in red states would have meant something to the people living there.

Still, nothing is set. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will take days to count votes. And it would be good if all votes from overseas citizens arrive by mail to be counted… and our mail is running slow.

I have to remind myself that a few extra days, or even a week, is nothing compared to the distress of the last four years, when environmental regulation collapsed, and jobs and lives were lost for no good reason.

And this is why waiting does not mean giving up.

How to Rig an Election

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

This is a post about voting in 2020… but it begins at the time I was trying to become a citizen.

In 1998, I was a longtime green card holder who had finally made a citizenship application. Friends had told me not to be nervous at my US citizenship exam. They said it would be ridiculously easy. I was 34 years old, a newspaper reporter with a British passport and an American accent. I was used to talking to every kind of person.

But when I went into the little room at the Baltimore Immigration and Naturalization Service and met my examining officer, I knew it wasn’t going to be simple. The questioner was an unsmiling American man with a curt manner. After running through the basics on my name, age and address, he casually led off with this question:

“What’s the last year you voted in a US election?”

He made it sound innocuous, and of course, it wasn’t. This was a trap question to weed out those who had committed a deportable offense. I answered truthfully that I had not voted, but that question made me realize how powerful voting might be for me in the future.

I got enough questions right that I passed and got both a certificate of naturalization and a U.S. passport. That fall I cast my first vote in a presidential election and have been voting ever since. As years passed, I found myself going to meet-and-greets for candidates at people’s homes, phoning potential voters, going door to door, and even driving voters to their polling stations.

So much of that activity cannot happen this year, because many campaign organizations are moving to remote strategies to keep from spreading COVID-19 infection. I get my politics by watching TV, reading the paper, listening to the radio and meeting candidates and activists on zoom. There’s a letter-writing campaign, Vote Forward, that I hope to participate in. A writer should be able to write a few letters encouraging people to find a way that works for them to safely vote.

Here in Maryland, our Republican governor, Larry Hogan, has declared a state of emergency which means he can decide how we vote. He’s decided to keep in-person voting. At the same time, he’s acknowledged that thousands of election judges are unable to staff the polls. His solution is closing Maryland’s 1600 polling places. Instead, there will be 360 voting centers to serve the state. I’m waiting to hear if there are enough people willing to work at these places to make it possible to cast votes in a timely fashion and if the voting centers might also have boxes where absentee ballots can be dropped off. That’s a strategy I’m hoping to participate in, having read the thoughts of New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie.

And while Marylanders are asking for the whole state to receive mailed absentee ballots, what’s happening instead is he’s requiring every voter to send in an application requesting a ballot. When I went online to request a Maryland absentee voter ballot today, I dutifully filled out every bit to find out I’d created a “system error.” Fortunately, I had more internet links to try, and at a different site, I was successfully registered to get an absentee voter application. But there you have it: Maryland has a terrible online system, and that’s if you have the energy to try.

Beyond Maryland, absentee voting is hard. Will the ballots come to us, and will they be received by the vote-counters in time? In May, Trump appointed a campaign supporter, Louis DeJoy, as the new postmaster general. Since DeJoy’s taken over, he’s fired many experienced officers in the system and made changes that have led to infrequent mail delivery for our household and almost everyone I know. In Minneapolis, the post office simply stopped delivering mail to a public housing complex. Imagine that kind of effort, applied by the post office to public housing addresses in cities all over the country.

I wave when I see Tom, our wonderful neighborhood postal carrier, faithfully walking his route with a mask during these hot months. Occasionally, he has nothing but advertising circulars to dispense to the block, because the delivery truck containing letters and packages never showed up that day. And imagine having a neighborhood post office with zero stamps in its inventory!

When we all know the post office needs to sell stamps to generate income to support itself—there are no tax dollars supporting mail.

“When the post office is closed during business hours, you know you’re in a banana republic,” an irritated woman muttered as we waited in a distanced line outside the post office one morning.

Yes. And if we cannot have our votes counted, it will only get worse.