Trying to Vote: My Son’s 2020 Election Ballot Odyssey

Yes. I know that signing someone else’s ballot is voter fraud. I am aware of the current accusations flying around. I am also aware of all that has been done to resolve and validate our 2020 election. Regardless, I was tempted. I was tempted to sign my son Eli’s ballot. He was eighteen. This was the first presidential election he could vote in. I knew he really wanted to vote. Before he left, he told me — many times: 

“Mom, I really want to vote. I am excited to vote. I think it is important that I vote.”

I am also really good at forging signatures. Ask my mom. I remember the day she said,

“Beth, I will admit. I often cannot tell your ‘forged’ signature or if it was me who signed my own. Nevertheless, if you are going to skip class so you can literally suntan on your school’s sidewalk, please stop writing excuse notes for you and your sister and signing my name.” [quote embellished for impact and clarity]

Packing for NOLS

During the summer Eli made sure he was registered to vote and that the voting folks had his correct address. We tried to get him an absentee ballot, but there was some confusion. Utah has been voting by mail since 2013, and our ballots traditionally arrive early. We felt confident that Eli would have his ballot in time. Eli, left in mid September to participate in the National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Wilderness Medicine and Rescue semester. This is something Eli was slated to do even before the pandemic began. Thankfully, the NOLS group was small and they were effectively and safely able to quarantine, (*which would ultimately factor into Eli’s voting journey). Eli told me how everyone wore masks for the first fourteen days. Then every time a new person was introduced to the group, which was not often, they would begin the fourteen days mask quarantine again. 

Leaving-For-NOLS Day

With a small group of isolated students in Wyoming, Eli would spend the month learning emergency medicine skills. On October 11, the group would leave for the backcountry near Escalante, Utah. Several times during that first month, Eli asked me if his ballot had arrived. My answer was always,

“No, but I will keep you posted.”

October 11, 2020, was also the day Eli’s ballot arrived. I texted him. He was packing and preparing to head to southern Utah. 

“If only it had come yesterday. I would have overnighted it to you.” I said.

NOLS first day

Something I did not mention about NOLS. NOLS is a leadership school. Ok. I did mention that. They literally want to teach their students to lead. As such, they make civic engagement a priority. Before Eli left for NOLS, we were sent nonpartisan  information of the importance of voting. Here is what they said:

VOTING: Please register to vote (or make sure you are registered) and request an absentee ballot before you arrive. This allows for the most opportunities to deliver it to you during your course, as well as postal travel time between you and your voting site. (And depending on your state, you may need up to two Forever stamps to return it so pack accordingly). Ballots, whether forwarded to you from home or sent from your Board of Elections, can be mailed to: [insert NOLS address here]

With NOLS’ commitment to help their students vote in mind I assured Eli that I would see what I could do. And this is where the journey of Eli’s 2020 ballot begins. The following is the correspondence I had with the lovely Jessica at NOLS:

The Ballot before it left our care.

Hi Jessica.

I hope you are well. Thank you for all of your help along the way. Eli still seems very happy. As you know, they just started  their next phase. Eli seems so excited to be heading to Southern Utah. 

Here is my totally strange, long shot question (with a little background first): Eli’s ballot just arrived. We were hoping it would be here sooner. We messed up getting his absentee ballot. (Thank you all for all you did to help the NOLS student’s vote.) 

Ok. We know Eli’s next contact day is November 3rd (as you know, also Election Day). We also know he is currently in Utah, his home state. We are not sure the actual date his expedition is finished. And we also wondered if there is a way we can get his ballot to him? We could drop it at someone’s car? We actually know them quite well. We are also willing to mail it to NOLS today. We are also willing to get it to him in Escalante. If his ballot is postmarked by November 2, his vote will count. (There is also a post office in Escalante.) YET, if he is in Utah on November 3rd, he can drop his ballot off at any drop box location until 8PM Election Day.

I am sure we might sound a little (or a lot) crazy. This election is very important. If our request is an impossibility, we understand. Nevertheless, we think it is worth a try.

At the very least, thank you for considering our harebrained scheme. Utah  has been voting by mail for years. Typically the ballots arrive much sooner. Oh well.

Best to you.
Beth Adams

NOLS RESPONSE:

First of all, we are doing all we can to help support students voting – we both see this as an important election, and we feel we would be remiss if we talked about leadership and didn’t include action in this part we all have a right and opportunity to do as citizens!

We have been watching our mail diligently for ballots, and have been doing our best to bring them to students who are out in the field now while they are getting re-rationed with food and fuel, which will happen twice on Eli’s course before the end of October. The most direct way is to send it directly to me at my office, and I will get it to one of our drivers heading down to Utah to meet with groups. 

I hope this helps and, again, we will do everything we can to get folks their ballots – thanks for checking!

Jessica

MY RESPONSE:

Jessica!

Yes. Your information and email totally helps. In fact, you made our night. Thank you. We sincerely appreciate how you support the NOLS students voting, and all of their leadership enhancing experiences, really. 

I will mail Eli’s ballot to you in the morning. Utah requires ballots to be postmarked no later than November 2. Is there a way Eli can give his completed ballot back to one of the drivers to mail? Or will he be out of the canyon by November 2, so he can mail it himself?

Honestly, I am excited and grateful that we are one step closer to making this work. Thank you for your enthusiasm, support, and all you are doing to help people get their ballots. It really means a lot.

Best,

Beth Adams

NOLS RESPONSE:

Yes! He’ll be able to fill it out there and return it to the driver who can drop it in the mail, usually within the day or two. If Utah requires stamps for returning a ballot (I know it varies state to state), it would be helpful to include those (we’ve been sponsoring students with stamps if need be, but just in case the driver doesn’t have them, it could help streamline it to a post office drop!)

Jessica

MY RESPONSE

Hey Jessica. That is awesome. Utah does not require stamps, but I am happy to send some extra. Thank you for sponsoring student stamps. And again, thank you for facilitating Eli’s civic responsibility. We are grateful.

Beth & Dave

By October 21, 2020, NOLS received Eli’s ballot. The plot thickens:

NOLS RESPONSE:

Hello!

I just wanted to give you an update on things re: Eli’s ballot. We have received it here, however, our re-ration outfitter has already picked up their re-ration from our storage facility in Utah… I am looking into seeing if we can overnight the ballot to the rerationer’s home and having him be able to get it to Eli and if that is a realistic option, but wanted to check in with you all. I will keep you updated from what I hear from our re-rationers – they sometimes go chunks of time between proper reception to get messages as they are driving around the BLM lands out there.

Jessica

MY RESPONSE

Jessica,

Thank you for your email. USPS said it would arrive by last Saturday or Monday, 10/19. Even though I am frustrated, I have tons of compassion for the USPS. They are dealing with a lot right now. 

Funny story: As we were preparing to mail Eli’s ballot, we suggested we make a documentary about the  process of delivering Eli’s ballot to him. At this point, I think it would have been a great idea.

I am happy to pay to send Eli’s ballot to your re-rationer’s home, if you think that would work. If it helps, Eli’s ballot has to be postmarked by November 2. 

Let me know what I can do. Thank you so much for all of your help.

Beth

[Insert “Dah, Dah, Dah” sound here]

NOLS’ RESPONSE

We got it on the USPS delivery day and I sent it down with our next driver to our re-supply storage area. He came back yesterday and told me that the re-rations had already been picked up (these outside outfitters pick them up at different times depending on their routes and the groups, NOLS and otherwise, that they are serving)… I have called the outfitter this morning – if I do not hear from him tonight definitively, does it feel okay to just take a gamble and send it to him and see what happens? I think that is our best option right now.

Jessica

MY FINAL RESPONSE, October 21, 2020:

Jessica,

Thank you for everything! I totally agree. It totally feels ok to send it.  Hopefully it gets to Eli. Either way, we are incredibly grateful for your effort.

If you hear anything, please let me know. 

😊Beth

After nearly dying twice (his words) of dehydration, Eli emerged from the Southern Utah back country on Tuesday, November 3: Election day, 2020. 

(He left looking 18. He came home looking 25.) Eli, his first hour home from NOLS, December 2020

Here is the text exchange we had. (My texts are in green. Eli’s are in grey):

Eli received his ballot on November 3, 2020. It was covered with several notes starting with me, the Wyoming NOLS people, the food suppliers and the backcountry folks. The focus of every message was:

“Let’s work together to get this student his ballot!”

Everyone earnestly tried to ensure that Eli could legally exercise his right to vote. By early November, 2020, Uttah’s Covid numbers had tripled since Eli first left. Because of Covid19 rules, the NOLS students were not allowed to make unscheduled stops, or really leave the bus. I asked Eli if he could find a way to drop his ballot off in a mailbox. 

“They won’t let us make any stops for Covid reasons.” He said.

Eli held onto his ballot. He did not vote. I did not vote for him.

Us, Christmas Day, 2020

In the end, I want thank NOLS for caring about the world around you. Thank you Eli for being wonderfully awesome, for surviving death — twice, for caring about the world around you and for wanting to vote. I know this road has not been easy. Yet, somehow during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, over 150 million Americans voted and Eli was determined to vote (legally). Thank goodness for all the people who did vote, and thank goodness for those who certified it!