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The Last of Pandora's Spirits
Published on Monday, October 18, 2004 by
The Last of Pandora's Spirits
by Steven Laffoley

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 an explanation."

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 abroad.

"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, vice, crime?

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 years.

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 agreement.

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( is a school principal, an American, and a freelance writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


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