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December 20, 2006

My stepfather was recently given a terminal diagnosis, which prompted the family to hold Christmas on the 17th. We all flew or drove into Cleveland for the event. Only immediate family was allowed, and all the immediate family was present. 

My presence was required, even tho RJ hasn’t been married to my mother in over 30 years. Tribal bonds are so much deeper than blood, it seems. This man raised me from age 12 on, and never laid an angry hand on me. I love him deeply.

The family is hurt I haven’t spent enough time visiting them. I needed to explain my activism in values they understand, given that RJ is now dying.

“You’re fighting City Hall again. What are you doing exactly?” he asked me.

“We’re auditing election records.”

Referring to the Democratic Sweep in the Midterm Elections, he asked, “So, you’re happy with the election, right?” 

“No.” I shook my head.

He erupted, “What WILL make you happy?” Then everyone started talking at once. Finally, they let me get a word in.

“In Franklin County, the machines are registering more votes than voters!” I exclaimed. “In Cuyahoga, there are more voters than votes.”

Bobby, the heir apparent, challenged me. “What’s your solution?” 

“Hand counted paper ballots.”

“Oh, my god,” he threw his hands up in the air and turned his back. What an absurd proposition, said his body language.

I raised my voice. “Canada hand counts nine million ballots in four hours.” He shifted his body to listen – which was the cue for everyone else in the tribe to listen. Privately, I thanked him. The talking points I had studied, drafted, simplified, and repeated poured out of my mouth. 

I looked at everyone, “Ninety-five percent of all democracies in the world hand count paper ballots. We’re nuts to vote on computers.” They became quiet; it was something they already suspected.

“Nine neighbors count the ballots for your neighborhood,” I explained.

“Are they volunteers?” Bobby asked.

“No. I’ve run three elections now and written out a cost analysis. If we pay them $10 an hour and pay administrators more, it costs half as much to hand count paper ballots than to use machines.”

“Ahh,” he smiled. “I see where you’re coming from.” 

I laughed and nodded, showing my enthusiasm. “It’s cheaper and we can trust the results!” 

In this Republican household, where the patriarch is on his deathbed, the heir apparent pronounced my strategy laudable. 

His wife stepped forward and loudly intoned, “I’m glad you’re on this, Rady.” What Carolyn meant was that she trusted I would design and run an honest election. 

My sister challenged me for not working in the environmental movement. I had decided to return to college (and live in poverty) in my 40s, another sore point with my family.

I explained, “I tried, Shelley. I really tried to get a job saving the environment. I begged for a job paying $8.50 an hour in steep hilly terrain. They won’t hire me in Ohio.”

I took a breath. “So, I’ll save democracy instead,” I smiled. Everyone laughed.

Boisterous conversation precluded me from raising the idea that without honest elections, no other issues can be addressed. But I stated the main points. They already have no confidence in reported results – it wasn’t a far leap to consider a paper ballot system.

I’m working in a field of interest (honest elections), doing work I have prior experience in (research and investigations), and it’s all for the benefit of democracy. 

My family can forgive my prior absences, knowing I can now afford to visit them on a moment’s notice. Because of this, Christmas this year has been tragically beautiful. 

The best gift I take from them this time is that we all agree we all want honest elections, whether Democrat, Republican or other.

Postscript: Of course, blood bonds are primary and I love all the members of my family. I couldn’t have done this work over the past couple years without the financial and emotional support of my biological family, as well as those friends and allies I consider part of my tribe. “Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.”