Saturday, August 14, 2004

And They’re Off... And Confusing

I have just cast my ballot in Arizona’s primary election. I ordered my early ballot at the first possible moment, and I just received it today.

I was amazed by the abstruse language on the ballot envelope. This is pretty important stuff! If you fail to sign your ballot, it is invalid. Yet despite a regular person needing to understand this language, it reads like it was written by a committee of second-rate lawyers - which it probably was. Except for the parenthetical comments, which are mine, it says:

I, [MICHAEL DAVID BRYAN] do solemnly swear or affirm (I suppose the ‘affirm’ option is for the atheists who won’t ‘swear’ to anything) that I am the identical person (Huh? Does this mean your clone or identical twin could sign?) whose name is signed to this affidavit and that this name and signature are my true name and signature, or if I did not personally sign, it was because of physical disability and that I requested (there is a big gap here for a line on which a helper can write their name)
[name of person signing the affidavit]
to sign for me, that I have not voted and will not vote in this election in any other state during the calendar year of this affidavit and that I personally voted the enclosed ballot or that it was marked according to my instructions because I was unable to do so. (take a deep breath...) I understand that knowingly voting more than once in any election is a class 5 felony. I declare that I will be a qualified elector of the State of Arizona and the County of Pima, that I am registered in precinct [259] in Pima County and that I reside at [what you think I’m giving the wingnuts my home address?] where I resided at the date of my registration. If a challenge is filed against my early ballot, I understand that a copy of the challenge will be sent to me by first class mail and that I may have as little as forty-eight hours notice of an opportunity to appear. For purposes of notifying me of a ballot challenge between the time I return my ballot and seven days after election day, please use the following address: [lines for temporary notice address]

Sheesh. My wife has a Ph.D and sometimes switch-hits as a professional technical writing editor. I have a J.D. and, obviously, I write a lot, though it would be a stretch to say that I edit all that much. We were both confused and annoyed by this language. I can only imagine what my mother, or a person with a high-school education, would make of it. Do our ballots have to make our brains hurt?

There is a - well, ‘movement’ is too strong a word... ‘faint suggestion’ might be more accurate - faint suggestion in legal writing courses these days that lawyers use simple English instead of the complicated formalistic and archaic locutions soo often seen on legal forms and contracts. If ever there were an appropriate place for simplifying and making accessible legal language, a voter’s ballot has got to be it.

So, in the hopes that thousands across our legalese-benighted land forward this post to F. Ann Rodrigez demanding reform, here is my poor attempt to unkink the syntax of this monstrous piece of legal cruelty. I leave the task of straightening the Spanish version, should it be needed, to someone who is actually fluent in the language. The key to simple legal language is short declarative sentences, sensible organization, and the use of concepts regular people use and understand.

By signing this document, I swear to the following:

  • I am [VOTER'S NAME];

  • I live in Precinct [#] at [HOME ADDRESS];

  • I am registered to vote in Pima County;

  • I lived at the above address when I registered to vote;

  • I will be at least 18 years old on Election Day; and,

  • I am qualified to vote in Arizona.

I signed this document with my own hand. If I did not sign this document myself, I requested [SIGNER’S NAME] to sign for me because of my physical inability to do so.

NOTICE: If your ballot’s validity is challenged:

  • A copy of that challenge will be sent to you by first class mail.

  • You may have as little as 48 hours notice of your right to appear to contest any challenge of your ballot.

  • If you cannot be reached at [HOME ADDRESS] between returning your ballot and 7 days after election, please specify an alternative address at which you prefer to be notified of any challenge to your ballot: [ALTERNATIVE ADDRESS]

    WARNING: Your ballot cannot be counted unless you sign below.

    DATE: [DATE]

    Now, I haven’t gone into the Arizona Statutes or the County Code to ensure that this affidavit meets all the legal requirements, but it says the same thing as the current early ballot affidavit without inducing migraines. Was that really so hard?


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