To me, that bit of paper was interesting, topical, a window into another world. To my colleague Paul, it's the right to participate in his country's politics.
When he phoned three weeks ago to ask when the ballot papers were being sent out to Americans abroad, he was told no problem, everything under control, we don't have the papers yet, but we'll send them out when we do. When there was no sign of the papers a week later, he phoned again. This time, they'd sent them out, but they weren't sure when, "but the line under your name means we've sent you one". Checked the address, it sounded fine. But still no ballot papers. Nobody knows why they didn't arrive. Nobody seemed too interested. No, they couldn't send them again.
Friday night, Paul spent 2 hours on the phone persuading the powers that be to FedEx him replacement ballot papers. In the end they agreed; the papers had to be put in an envelope and sealed in view of official witnesses, and given to a uniformed FedEx courier. They turned up here at work this morning. The FedEx chap was supposed to take the marked papers straight back by return, but when he arrived he said he couldn't do that, because he didn't have an envelope. The return envelope turned out to be inside the delivered one. Paul's on the phone to FedEx now trying to convince them that our place of work exists, in the hope that they'll get somebody out to pick up the marked ballot papers. He's given the address five times already.
Still, at least he managed to register as a postal voter abroad using the online registration system. The one that was apparently shut down in several countries "for security reasons".
Realistically, voting in Kerry's state, Paul's vote probably isn't going to be crucial. But how many other Democrats abroad have failed to receive their ballot papers, and how many would bother to keep phoning and kicking up a fuss to win the right to vote? How many people would just shrug their shoulders, curse the mail, and let it slide? In my colleague's place, would I put the effort in?