I Voted -- in South Africa I am a resident of Waldorf, [but] working and living in southern Africa in the Kingdom of Lesotho. My wife and I have experienced good and less-than-good service from election boards over the years in regards to absentee ballots, and I would like to share my experience with outstanding service from an election board.

We arrived in Lesotho too late to get a change of address for a primary absentee ballot this year and sent a letter to the Charles County Board of Elections requesting airmail service at the earliest opportunity for the general election. As you may know, Peace Corps does not afford volunteers any special mailing options that are available to other United States citizens serving their country overseas, so I was concerned about getting a ballot that could be returned through international mail in time to be counted.

My wife received her ballot and returned it the next day with the usual two-week lead time to get to La Plata in time. Mine was not there. I went daily to the post office until there was less than a week until election time, and I sent an e-mail to the Charles County Board of Elections explaining my problem. I had a prompt reply which reported both of our ballots being mailed at the same date, an offer to FedEx another and advice to contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.

As a result I contacted the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Maseru, and was told I could have my ballot transported, free of charge, by DHL Worldwide Express, or I could come to the embassy and vote on a generic ballot provided I knew which candidates were running for a particular office. Charles County came through with a ballot on the Internet so I could be prepared for any eventuality.

I phoned the U.S. Embassy and this information was confirmed. I contacted Peace Corps to get permission to travel to Maseru and this was granted. I waited. Then on the Saturday before Election Day I received my absentee ballot. I traveled by kombi-taxi the three hours to Maseru and was admitted to the U.S. Embassy and cast my ballot after being assured it would arrive timely via DHL.

I was able to access the Internet again and sent an e-mail to the Charles County Election Board and thanked them for their accurate advice on a matter (international post) that was out of their hands.

The Charles County Election Board should be applauded for service above and beyond the call of duty.

Jim Mueller

Waldorf

Mohale's Hoek, Lesotho

Comcast Increase Is Taxing

My Comcast statement for December included a notice that starting in January, my Basic Service cost would increase by $1.72 per month "related to the new agreement with the county." According to Comcast, this increase was "for PEG (public, educational and government) channels and equipment as well as the construction of a fiber optic Institutional Network (I-NET) for the county."

I was astounded to find that the franchising authority has tried to authorize Comcast to levy a tax on its customers to pay for the PEG and I-NET systems. I spoke with representatives of Comcast and the franchising authority about this, and both denied that this "cost increase" was a tax. My Webster's Third defines "tax" as a charge imposed "for public purposes: a forced contribution of wealth to meet the public needs of a government." The Charles County commissioners recently described the PEG and I-NET systems, noted that Charles County needed them, and expressed pleasure that the recent agreement with Comcast would bring them to the county. This cost increase of $1.72 monthly to Charles County Comcast customers is, by definition, a tax.

As the franchising authority cannot legally authorize Comcast, a nongovernment body, to impose taxes, it should immediately rescind its approval for this cost increase.

I do not oppose the PEG and I-NET systems, nor the agreement for Comcast to establish them. But I do oppose charging only Comcast customers for their cost. All county residents and businesses will benefit, including those without TV or who receive it through antenna or satellite dish. Funds to pay for these systems should be prioritized and allocated from county tax revenue, just as they are for other government functions and services.

Bruce P. Kirk

La Plata

A Farewell Salute

Effective Jan. 11, 2003, I am resigning as Commanding Officer of the Southern Maryland Young Marines. It is with much regret that I have reached this decision.

I would like to thank the Command Staff, parents, Young Marines, VFW Indian Head commander, national staff, regimental commander, Maryland Independent and Southern Marylanders for affording me the position. However, due to years of not having many free weekends and nights, I am unwilling to continue as CO.

On that note, your principal command staff will be Chief Warrant Officer John Darby; Lisa Buffaloe, executive officer; and Lashon Hilliard, paymaster/adjutant. I am sure that you agree with me that they are more than suited for the task ahead, and I ask that you give them the same support that you have given me over the years. Also, Gunnery Sgt. Eugene Champion has agreed to stay on as training officer to shepherd the March 8 recruitment registration. I will continue on in some capacity as a public relations officer.

We belong to an organization that is well known to many political and church leaders, judiciary, educators, law enforcers and, of course, parents/guardians. Nowadays, we continue to read about organizations whose adults have taken advantage of their position to victimize our children. However, it is a pleasure being a part of a local organization that has remained scandal-free during such troubling times. But this is in keeping with how the Young Marines promote the mental, moral and physical development of its members; to instill in its members the ideals of honesty and fidelity to our country and its institutions; to stimulate an interest in, and respect for, academic achievement; to promote physical fitness; close order drill; and to advocate a drug-free lifestyle through a continual drug prevention education program.

I look forward to seeing you at the 9 a.m. Jan. 11 change of command ceremony to be held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Indian Head.

Edward P. Holland

Dentsville