Voting from Abroad and Faxing Difficulties

08 Nov 2016

It’s 2016, and I thought my days of using a fax machine were well behind me. It turns out, however, that Hillsborough County in Florida allows mailed-in ballots and faxed-in ballots, but not emailed-in ballots. And due to the unreliability of regular post (I find that a lot of letters and packages simply never arrive these days), my options are down to fax or using an international delivery service like UPS or FedEx. But since those two each cost over $50 to send in my ballot, I opted to go the more archaic route: fax.

Day Sixty Four - Fax Machine

Since any major hotel in Shanghai has a “Business Center” (商务中心), I figured going to a nice hotel would be a good place to fax a document. Sure, it wouldn’t be the cheapest faxing option, but it would certainly be much less than $50, and I could get the help of the professional staff of a five-star hotel.

After calling ahead to the Jing’an Hilton and the Jing’an Shangri-La Hotel (both within walking distance of my office) to make sure both offer international fax services, I set out Friday afternoon to fax in my ballot.

Reality was a bit more complicated. The staff of both places (as well as a third, Yan’an Hotel, which I tried out since I was walking past it anyway) were actually not very familiar with using a fax machine, much less sending an international fax. Every trip resulted in a polite affirmative from staff that they could fax the document, followed by lots of calls on how to send an international fax, multiple attempts, and ultimate failure. The worst part was the way the fax machine’s “failure to send” message result was worded: “no answer or the line was busy.” “Or”?? Seems like in this case, the result could be clearer.

I began to suspect that the fax machine was only on during business hours, and also decided to take a friend’s suggestion and use an app. So I scanned my document, got it on my phone, and used an app called Genius Fax to send it in Friday night at around 8:30pm. Success!

I honestly thought that going the more human route would be easier and more certain, but when it comes to using an increasingly outdated technology, which relies on another increasingly outdated technology (international telephone calls), it just didn’t work out. I still don’t even know for sure if the main issue really was simply one of business hours and time difference, but at least the fax went through in the end.

So if you’re voting abroad, a few pieces of advice:

  1. If you can’t vote by email, vote by fax. You have to waive your right to secret ballot to do this, but at least you can be fairly sure your vote has been received.
  2. If you use the fax option, use an internet-based service. I used Genius Fax, but friends on Facebook also recommend FaxZero and HelloFax.
  3. If you’re voting from abroad and you’ve received your ballot, it’s not too late to vote. So even though today is the official voting day, you still have time, especially if you choose the fax option. Votes from abroad can decide a close election!

Hopefully this helps somebody. Get your vote in! Coming from the state of Florida, I felt additional pressure to be sure to vote in this presidential election, and getting that “successfully received” message from the app was quite a relief.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. You should have found someone from Japan to help you. Japanese are probably the last of the heavy fax users/experts remaining.

  2. I didn’t even know it was possible to waive ones right to a secret ballot. It seems like a loop hole that would allow vote selling.

  3. I was worried my snail-mail ballot wouldn’t make it there, but I lucked out and got a confirmation email from my county clerk just two weeks later! Nice and cheap, and it still made it there early. I don’t think I’d count on it to work out that way every time, though.

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