Voting Made Easy guide

The following is a guide that I shared with my workplace on Oct. 20 and am recording here in case it can be useful to anyone else.

Dear colleagues,

1. Today [Oct. 20] is the recommended deadline for sending in your ballot by mail.
2. Don’t worry: There are other ways to vote, including through official ballot drop boxes.
3. Questions? I’m hosting Voting Made Easy Office Hours on Zoom today, from 1pm to 5pm. Drop in at any time with any questions, or just to fill out your ballot in a friendly environment. We won’t talk about which candidates we’re choosing, or how we’re voting on propositions, but we can talk about logistical things like when and where to turn in ballots, how to find a voting guide that you vibe with for the more esoteric parts of the ballot, and more.

This year, all registered California voters were sent a vote-by-mail ballot. That means it’s more accurate to say that November 3 is the deadline than it is to call it Election Day. All of October up through November 3 is Election Day!

What follows is some info about how to turn your ballot in, how to vote if you didn’t receive one, and some voter guides that can demystify state and local races.

Perhaps the most important part of all of this: If you have any questions at all, or would like to walk through any part of this with someone, please ask me. If I don’t know, I can find out, and I would be delighted to help!

In addition to the presidential election, your ballot is chock-full of vital state and local races and propositions. These smaller and less immediately clear ballot items can be critically important; for example, if you rent, or if the school’s recent Cost of Living survey has you thinking about housing costs in California, Prop 21 will be of particular interest to you. Both the LA Tenants’ Union and landlords statewide have taken strong, opposing stances on it.

Am I registered to vote?
Check your voter status here:

Can I still register to vote?
Yes! If you are not currently registered to vote, you can still vote by going to a Vote Center or a county election office prior to election day.

Where can I vote?
Enter your address here to find your nearest location.

USPS recommends allowing 14 days for a mailed-in ballot, so if it’s after October 20, voting in person or turning in your ballot at an official drop box listed on is your best bet. (Using that site will help you to avoid unofficial ballot boxes if you wish to do so.)

I want to vote early.
An excellent idea! Visit to find your nearest location. You can vote TODAY, and I suggest it. The earlier the better.

What if it’s after October 20, or I’m concerned about the mail?
Drop your ballot off in person! Find your nearest location at

What if I’m concerned about intimidation at the polls?
Vote well before Nov. 3, and at an off-peak time if possible.

What if I’m having a hard time getting to a ballot drop box, or someone I know is?
On the back of the ballot’s return envelope, a voter can legally authorize someone else to return their ballot for them. (See attached image for an example.)

How do I know where my ballot is and whether it’s been counted?
Visit to sign up for updates!

Who’s funding what?
The CA Secretary of State’s site and provide info on who is funding which candidates and ballot measures. These search tools aren’t as user-friendly as I would like. If you have questions, let me know — I will do my best to get to the bottom of it!

As in all parts of life, view marketing campaigns skeptically, perhaps especially the ones that claim to protect vulnerable populations. The people most able to afford lots of glossy mailers and big billboard ads are rarely the ones who most need change or have the most to lose.

Can I get a helpful voting guide?
I’ve tried to represent a range of views here, including both major political parties, our local paper, and a few smaller groups. Links to the group’s platform/core principles are included where applicable.

If you know of a guide that might be a useful addition, send me a link and I’ll edit this post to add it.

Thank you for reading, and happy voting!

Gender-neutral French pronouns

Image: “Gender was never binary” by Jeanne Menjoulet on flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

While brushing up on my French, I started wondering which pronouns nonbinary people in Francophone countries use. Most of the nonbinary people I know in the U.S. use the singular “they” (which has been in use for centuries), and I’m familiar with other pronouns like ze and xe.

A Duolingo forum post led me to the two infographics above. I also enjoyed reading this Quora answer, originally posted in 2017 and updated in May 2019:

iel” is quite often used in the LGBT+ community and is probably the most “standard” replacement. (I have also read “ille” a few times, but it does not seem as popular and it doesn’t work well in spoken language, when it sounds roughly the same as “il”). But random people who don’t know nonbinary people or aren’t interested in gender issues are unlikely to use or even recognize it.

Edit: I’m now much more interested and better informed about this topic than I was when I originally wrote the above in 2017. The situation has, unfortunately, not changed much. Iel is still the most common NB pronoun, but in the community, al is also gaining traction, as part of a larger grammar system including a neutral gender, proposed by a linguistics researcher (see here, but about everything is in French and untranslated). I now use it quite a lot in French, including for myself. Other non-binary pronouns I have seen or heard used by people, although not as often, are ul and ol. I also know several people (mostly genderfluid ones) who use il, elle and iel interchangeably.

Alex Coninx, native French speaker; updated May 1, 2019

For more discussion and details, check out these links:

A masterful change of key

A while ago, my partner and I were in the car, and he mentioned “that one Confederate statue, the really bizarre one.” I didn’t know what he meant, so I searched weird confederate statue, and this WaPo piece from 2015 came up:

The ‘terrifying’ Confederate statue some Tennesseeans want to hide” by Peter Holley

I highly recommend reading the article now, if you want to take a minute. Take this journey with me.

It’s a fascinating piece, for its structure and execution as much as for its subject matter. The hook is simple: “‘[This is] an offensive display of hatred'” is a common description for statues of Confederate figures, but “‘This thing has a mouth like a circular saw'”? Less so. Holley juxtaposes the horror of the statue’s subject with the absurdity of its execution:

It is a 25-foot-tall homage to a slave-trading Confederate Army and Ku Klux Klan leader, and it features Forrest atop a golden steed that looks like it was ripped from a merry-go-round for giants.

The next paragraph is a masterpiece of understatement:

Regardless of where you stand on Confederate issues, the statue is a sight to behold.

I laughed at the header image. I laughed at the “‘circular saw'” and the “merry-go-round for giants.” I laughed at the wry understatement. Amid all that, I exclaimed* at the “Ku Klux Klan leader” fact, sure, but I still wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

After touching on the very real horror of what Forrest did and who he was, Holley turns back to the absurd (“There’s also the matter of the aesthetics”). I laughed at the unfavorable comparison to “‘statues of cartoon characters located inside cartoon shows,'” I laughed at the “‘expression that one makes after sitting on a thumb tack,'” and I laughed really hard at the close-up image of the statue’s face.

At this point, the article takes a turn:

Adding to the oddity is the fact that the statue was designed by the late sculptor and attorney Jack Kershaw, who represented James Earl Ray, the man convicted of murdering the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


At the statue’s unveiling, in 1998


“He’s crying, ‘Follow me!’” Kershaw is quoted as saying.

W H A T?? Where. Where could a Confederate official and Klansman possibly want to lead us? How could it be anywhere good? How is someone advocating this in/after 1998? Mr. Kershaw, what in the name of all that is decent are you trying to—

“Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery,” [Kershaw] once told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

Oh. I see.

The businessman on whose land this statue rests has some thoughts about the campaign for its removal:

“The No. 1 thing that disturbs me about the whole situation is, what about the 70,000 people that come here to study Civil War history every year?” he told the paper.

That’s the No. 1 thing that disturbs him about the whole situation. He looked at the situation, all of it, and decided that was the worst part.

“You’re taking away one of the reasons they’re coming to Nashville. They do support the restaurant industry, the lodging industry — and how many blacks work in those industries, work [as] tour guides and what have you?”

“blacks.” Of course. To use a technical term, that’s what we might consider a “red flag.” In fairness, this man’s economy of language is admirable; “what have you” here stands in for the far wordier “other jobs I have never had to do and cannot imagine anyone like me doing.”

Here is the very next sentence:

Dorris — who called slavery a form of “social security” for African Americans, “a cradle-to-the-grave proposition” — told WPLN that he’s not racist.

It was at about this point that I said out loud, “HOW? HOW DOES IT KEEP GETTING WORSE?”

Dorris has said the quality of Kershaw’s sculpting work is not great. But the statue should remain in view, he said, because of what it stands for.

It kept getting worse.

“As an artist, mediocre,” Dorris said to WPLN about Kershaw. “As a thinker, he was way ahead of his time.”

I have nothing. Nothing to say about this. What can you say about this? I have nothing.

And finally:

As for Dorris himself, he once told WPLN: “I’ve been accused of being racist. Now if I was racist, why have I got so many blacks working for me?”

That’s it. That’s the last paragraph of this piece that started out — well, if not lightheartedly, then as lightheartedly as a piece involving the continued glorification of the Confederacy can start out. In fewer than 1000 words, Holley pulled me in by my superficial laughter, shone a light on that ironic distance I can afford as a white woman from California, and confronted me with the full, ongoing horror that lies behind my laughter’s cause.

* I hope I was only surprised that a statue of a KKK leader is still on public display (outside of the context that a museum would provide); I dearly hope I was not surprised that a Confederate official was a KKK leader. More on my white, Californian naïvete in a moment.

** There’s that white, Californian naïvete.