Friday, September 9, 2016

Jury Duty and Voting - An Expat State of Limbo

Two weeks ago my wonderful and conscientious parents (to whom I should really pay a fee for being my most diligent and patient mail receiving, holding, and forwarding service) sent me a jury summons that I received in the mail.

I groaned.

I would actually be kind of interested in sitting on a jury, especially as a lawyer.

However, we all know that in practice, reporting for duty can be logistically difficult and a bit of an inconvenience.  And once you're living far, far away, well.  It's pretty much not an option.

But when I cycled through the automated options on the telephone, I really didn't know what to do.  I couldn't postpone my jury summons because frankly I had no idea when I would next to be back in the U.S.  I thought the right option was to indicate that I no longer resided in the county.  But then the options for proving that I no longer lived there were my federal tax returns, my driver's license or my voter registration card.  Hmm.  This stumped me because my only address in in the U.S., which I use on all three of the above mentioned items, is my permanent address in the relevant county for which I had just been summoned.

I called the local hotline.  I managed to stump the first woman who answered as well.  I explained my situation, including repeating twice that I lived in Hong Kong.  Her response was to ask me if I would be in the U.S. on March 17, 2017, as she could slot me in on that day.  I couldn't help it, I laughed.  It was helpless laughter but I didn't know how else to explain my predicament so that she could understand.  Clearly flustered, she said "I'm switching you to supreme!"

Well, I had no idea what that meant, though I suspected I was getting transferred to the county supreme court line, but it had a nice ring to it, so I said "okay."

The woman at supreme was all business.  I explained my situation again.  When I said I lived in Hong Kong, she said, aghast, "WHERE?!"  And, quickly realizing this was no time to put a fine point on it, I said, "CHINA!"  I barely resisted adding, "It's really far away!"

She said as long as I could give her a copy of my Hong Kong lease, utility bill, and driver's license, I would be off the hook for my upcoming summons date.  I didn't really have the heart to explain that I didn't have a Hong Kong driver's license.  I figure my identity card should serve the same purpose.  Let's see if it works...

This got me thinking about something else from this past weekend, actually.  There were legislative council elections in Hong Kong and I didn't even realize it until I was walking by voting booths on the street on Sunday.  I can't vote here, so while I do see the posters and am vaguely aware of the election campaigns, I don't really follow it.  Everything is in Cantonese also, which is impenetrable.

However, I am following the U.S. elections (as is the entire world) and I plan to vote by absentee ballot.  And that is an election that has a LOT of resonance and meaning for me.

But then, my every day, mundane, day to day life is really governed by a state in which I have absolutely no civic duties, no right of participation.  It's a strange feeling.  

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