Major Obstacles For Voters Abroad 

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : September 19, 2020

The trend of voting has always been a major concern for the citizens who are living abroad. But this time with COVID19, the difficulties have grown, and the citizens are worried about how their votes are going to be accepted. U.S. embassies have taken to social media to remind foreign-based Americans how to exercise their right to vote. Still, a few do not encourage voters to drop their completed ballots at the embassy — a standard practice in the past.

Major obstacles for voters abroad

A State Department official told CNN that Because of local circumstances and to safeguard the health and safety of U.S. citizens, embassies may temporarily delay ballot selection in limited cases. A note on the U.S. Embassy website in Moscow said U.S. citizens are currently unable to drop completed ballots at the embassy but can post them there as long as they arrive on October 2. Other embassies, such as Abu Dhabi, require people to make an appointment to drop their ballots. U.S. citizens in Cuba face an incredibly difficult situation with the cessation of foreign mail services, and the U.S. Embassy in Havana said it would not accept ballots there.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of Havana airport, the U.S. the Havana Embassy is unable to accept ballots from U.S. citizens living in Cuba, a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Havana said. At this time, there is no effective means of sending paper ballots to the U.S. Patricia Morgovsky, an American with a Cuban fiancée living in Havana, said she hoped to collect her ballot by email and return it by fax. She said she would have preferred the U.S. Embassy to help a coronavirus stranded American vote, but she said she’d find out what to do. I am frustrated and feel like they should have a solution, she said to CNN. But I never really expected them to do that.

Although U.S. people who are needed to return a physical ballot to the state election board may still be able to mail or send their ballots, doing so is prohibitively costly in many countries.Kim Kettler-Paddock, communications director for Republicans Overseas, said it could take months to send a ballot by mail from Hong Kong, where she lives, and it could cost about $100 to ship. Three Democratic senators wrote to the U.S. embassies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Japan, Australia, Israel, Germany, Italy, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Costa Rica, China, Brazil, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Argentina in early September for clarification on the steps they are taking to ensure that Americans can vote safely.

Postal distribution problems and tight state deadlines mean that ballots from some voters living overseas go uncounted in each election. Obstacles to voting combined with fears that their votes won’t count means that many overseas Americans will opt not to vote at all, Sens’ letter said. We are extremely worried that delays and uncertainty will make matters worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to David Beirne, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) — which offers information and services on voting from abroad to service members and people from abroad — about 5 million Americans live abroad, about 3 million of whom are registered to vote. A further 172,000 active duty personnel are deployed abroad, Beirne said.

According to an FVAP survey, only about 10 percent of registered overseas voters demanded ballots in the 2016 general election, and only an estimated 7 percent ended up casting ballots, for a total of about 208,000 voters. To vote from abroad, U.S. people must first make sure that they are enrolled in their home states, and then they can ask FVAP for an absentee ballot. States must submit the vote, which can be sent by email, 45 days before the election. That mark of 45 days is Saturday. Beirne said FVAP suggests that voters overseas refer to the suggested last mailing dates before returning their ballots and that they should start this process early to avoid being hurried or missing the deadlines for the state. He said they had received no complaints about the protection of their ballots from voters.

She said her organization encourages overseas voters to return their ballots via postal mail to send back a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot — a substitute ballot used in the event that the official ballot fails to arrive on time. That is so different from years gone by. You usually wait until the last two weeks in October for the FWAB, because people haven’t gotten their ballots yet, because there’s something wrong because we suggest go ahead and submit an FWAB, she said. We’re starting way sooner than that because we know it can be very slow for postal mail systems. Voters whose official absentee ballot arrives after they submit their Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, according to FVAP, can also fill out and submit in the official ballot. One can only be counted.

Republicans Overseas’ Kettler-Paddock told CNN what we are proposing this year is everybody looking for their vote to get their vote electronically. You can’t use an electronic signature on it, you’ve got to use your own signature, so you’ve got to print it out, sign it, scan it, or photograph it to get it back, she said. Everyone is very anxious and apprehensive about getting their ballots back. I think it increases the stress level. Voting from abroad needs forms that you fill in, and so on, and sometimes it can feel like a natural blockade, said Julia Bryan, Democrats Abroad’s global chairman, who told CNN this year that the group has definitely had a lot of difficulties. I’d say our number one thing was to help people ask for their ballot in the past. And then we’d, we’d start to follow up and say, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to send back your ballot.’ But now we’re really going to have to take it all the way, not only to ask and send back the ballots but also to make sure that those b’s back.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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