Recently, a friend told me her tale of Florida voting
gone wrong - again. And though I felt the heavy weight
of discouragement, I discovered something I had never
expected to find in the darkness of these times. I
found the last of Pandora's spirits - hope.
Let me explain.
On a warm Friday in October, three of us stand outside
a school waiting for our children. We talk with great
animation about voting in the upcoming presidential
election. We are all expatriate Americans living in a
quiet corner of Canada: one, a chatty, Hispanic New
Yorker; another, a gentle, middle-aged Floridian; and
me - the lowest of the low in republican America - an
old Massachusetts liberal. The Floridian is sharing
her tale of the troubles she is having with her vote.
"My absentee ballot arrived in Canada safely enough,"
she says, "but unlike your ballots [from New York and Massachusetts], my ballot didn't have a seal-able envelope in which to return it." Understandably, she is concerned and a little suspicious.
"What did you do?" the New Yorker asks.
"Well," the Floridian says, "this morning I wrote an
e-mail to a democratic organization for Americans
living abroad. And I asked if this ballot without a
seal is normal. In fifteen minutes, the group
responded. They were concerned. And they told me to
call my local electoral office in Florida and ask for
So she did.
"I called and I spoke to a young girl there," she
tells us, "and when I explained my situation, the girl
told me, 'Not to worry, we'll take care of it when it arrives.'"
" 'Take care of it?' I said to her, 'Does that mean
when the envelope is opened, democratic and republican representatives will be there to ensure the vote is received and counted?' And you know what she said? 'Well, no, you'll just have to trust us.'"
Of course "Florida elections" and "trust" didn't sit
well together for the expatriate Floridian. So she
tells us that she again contacted the democratic
organization and explained the new situation. And they
told her to send the ballot registered mail and they
would have a representative there to receive and count
it. Further, the group suggested that she contact CNN,
which was doing a story on problems with votes from
"You mean there are that many problems with the vote
already?" she asked.
"Oh yes," they insisted, "many."
So we three grumble and shake our fists at the
divisive politics of George W. Bush. We talk of other
reports from Florida: about the harassment of black
voters and Hispanic voters. And then we wonder aloud,
"Will it happen again? Will our votes be lost to a
court ruling or worse?"
By now the Floridian has convinced the New Yorker that
it will happen again, and they wonder if they will
ever go home again. And I found myself almost ready to
agree. After all, what dark spirit hasn't George W.
Bush unleashed from Pandora's box - disease, sorrow,
And that's when it happened.
I suddenly found myself rebutting the lost hope of my
fellow expatriate Americans. I began talking about
America with a passion I hadn't felt for nearly twenty
What was it?
It wasn't patriotism, because patriotism is born of
passion for a country and its practices that now
exists. And my America had long disappeared with
Reagan and Bush the Elder. No, what I felt was
something that belonged to a distant memory, or
perhaps to a dream, or even perhaps to the
Massachusetts liberalism I was taught as a child
through the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, of Henry
David Thoreau, and of John F. Kennedy.
I actually found myself talking about the ideal of
America as a shining city on a hill, as a beacon of
promise for those genuinely in search of life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the New
Yorker and the Floridian nodded their heads in
I imagined this same conversation happening among
expatriate Americans everywhere as they too grappled
with the discouraging, Karl Rovian politics - in
Florida and around the world - of divide and conquer.
I even imagined that the harder Karl Rove and George
W. Bush pushed their patrician politics down the
throats of Americans the more they would provoked from dissidents and expatriates alike America's most powerful quality - its idealism.
And American idealism is pure hope - the last spirit
of Pandora's box.
Steven Laffoley(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a school principal, an American, and a freelance writer living in Halifax,
Nova Scotia, Canada.