American 2020 Election vs. COVID-19

We are not fighting a legal case, but having a war with a disease that can definitely impact the results of the November 3rd American 2020 Federal Election.  According to FVAP (Federal Voting Assistant Program), in 2016 there were approximately 3 million overseas voters who can vote. Today, there are 20 states who might deny these voters their constitutional right to vote because their state law requires all overseas and military ballots to be returned via mail.  In number, we have more voters than Mississippi with a population of 2,989,260.

Which 20 states require overseas voters to return their ballot via “snail mail”?    Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming (source FVAP and Overseas Vote Foundation websites)

Recently, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft cited the U.S. Postal Service’s extended delays in delivering mail from overseas used his authority pursuant to Section 115.291, RSMo., to declare any area overseas as “inaccessible’..  As a result, all military and overseas voters may return their ballot by fax, email or by using the Military and Overseas Voter Access Portal.

Iowa Sec of State Paul Pate issued an emergency directive to allow Iowa overseas ballots to be transmitted electronically for July 7th’s special elections and June Primary. Will do again as needed.

Overseas and military voters that are required by their last state in America to “snail mail” or “pony express” their ballots are faced with both difficulty and expense.  International mail does NOT work.   “The current pandemic has disrupted mail service to over 180 countries. Even in the best of times, mail service in many countries is unpredictable” West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner

Why are 20 states using 1775 technology in the year 2020?  Change is not easy, but without change, we would never progress.  The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress, when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. Xerox Corporation introduced (and patented) in 1964 what many consider to be the first commercialized version of the modern fax machine.   America’s first automatic teller machine (ATM) made its public debut in 1969. The first email was sent by Ray Tomlinson to himself in 1971.  In 1995, Wells Fargo was the first U.S. bank to add account services to its website, with other banks quickly following suit. Also, in 1995, Amazon was founded in the garage of Bezos’ rented home in WA.  Facebook launched in 2004. West Virginia used a phone voter app in 2018.

Many voters trust and use bank apps to do banking, buy from the Amazon website, and send emails around the world.  America is the land of the free where Americans have the freedom to vote, no matter where they live, work, or study.  States should give their overseas and military citizens the freedom of how they want to return their ballots:  mail, email, fax, online, or voter phone apps.  The technology is there, and is always updated to correct mistakes, or new ideas appear.  There are always those who complain and say certain technology doesn’t work or it’s not safe.  America has many bright computer wizards, and university professors who can use their knowledge to correct what they think is wrong, rather than attack the system.

How are overseas and military voters going to return their ballot if Covid-19 creates a situation where there is international mail service suspensions by the USPS, FedEx, and DHL?  They can’t, and if their state requires ballots returned by mail, their constitutional right to vote has been denied.

According to FVAP, the countries with the highest numbers of voting-age U.S. citizens are Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, France and Japan. Cities with the highest number of voting-age U.S. citizens include London, Tel Aviv, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

In 2018, even before Covid-19, the USPS returned many ballots from New York, Georgia, and other states to voters in Mexico, Israel, Canada, and other countries.

  • Husband and wife living in Israel, who vote from New York, each Expressed Mailed their ballot in preprinted envelopes.  His was accepted and hers was returned with a statement written on the envelope by the USPS, “incorrect address”.  It was not a handwritten envelope, and both had the same address.  The USPS denied her right to vote!!
  • Jacob from Georgia who votes from Rustburg, VA also had his ballot returned by the USPS.
  • Daniel who voted from San Diego was also denied his right to vote by the USPS.
  • Binyamin who lives in Jerusalem received his absentee ballot 3 days after the election.

Since Covid-19

  • “The use of the Mexican mail system is a non-starter. Under the very best circumstance it takes six weeks for a letter to travel from to the US, sometimes eight weeks – if the letter arrives at all.”  Doug Hall
  • “The Embassy, of course, will always accept ballots from United States citizens.  In normal times, I would say allowing three weeks (given to us by about October 13) would provide a very good cushion for ballots to arrive on time.”  Voter from France
  • Singapore: Consulate shut until July 15 so no information available there about Consulate support for ballots.
  • Hong Kong:  Air mail has been suspended between the US and Hong Kong. The US Consulate will collect ballots and mail. This will take 3-4 weeks between drop off and arrival at destination in the US.
  • “I am resident in Switzerland. Mail sent from here to major US cities is recently taking 15 to 20 days where it used to take 5. Mail sent from the US to Switzerland (Lausanne area) is taking 6 to 10 weeks due to Swiss delays on top of USPO ones.”
  • “The mail between Brazil and the US is always bad, and now with the pandemic, commercial flights to the US are virtually at a standstill.”
  • Many elderly overseas voters from New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have expressed they are not voting this year because of  the fear of going to the local post office to mail their ballot because of Covid-19.

How can we proceed to improve on the worst?  What can we do to help overseas and military voters?   We are in an emergency situation.   If domestic voters are allowed to avoid going to the polls by mailing or dropping off ballots, can the law be changed to allow fax or email return of overseas/military ballots in 2020?

There is always a ray of light in darkness. We are not in this battle alone. Twenty-seven state and local election officials from across America convened to specifically address the global mail disruptions and the impact on overseas voters. The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative Working Group of elections officials, recognize they are uniquely positioned to advocate for the overseas and military voters.  They feel compelled to provide guidance to their election administration colleagues, governors, legislators and other stakeholders.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, co-chair of The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative. “As election officials, we need to do our level best to ensure that every eligible citizen who wants to cast a ballot is able to do so and to ensure that ballot is counted.”

“There are limited options and limited time,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, co-chair of the CSG Overseas Voting Initiative. “Policymakers are running up against election preparation deadlines to make any substantive changes that will help voters in this situation. The right to vote is sacred and enshrined in our Constitution. Therefore, we need election officials, governors and legislators to be aware of this potential issue and help us mitigate it so that voters can exercise their right to vote in our democratic process.”

“Technological advancements have torn down barriers to convenient interaction with government and private entities, and have increased accessibility without sacrificing a person’s privacy.  Not only is technology available to help people vote, West Virginia law now requires it.”  Marc Warner, Sec of State West Virginia

“We are building a dialogue with DHS and trying to get them comfortable in our world,” says Paul Pate, president of the National Association of Secretaries of State and Iowa’s secretary of state. “We’ve been setting up various communication tools and setting up resources. When we started on this path, the feds weren’t telling us anything, so just the progress on that front has been a big improvement.”

“Authorities in all 50 states are taking steps not only to secure the vote but also to ensure that the public perceives that vote as valid. They are getting help from the federal government, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an operational component under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Experts say the aggressive action is justified, given the high likelihood that adversarial nations and other bad actors could try to tamper with the ­general election.” Adam Stone

“Congress allocated $380 million to support election security in 2018, and all 50 states obtained federal funding to secure their election infrastructure. They were planning to spend that on updates to the voter registration databases, cybersecurity practices in general, training and audits.”  says Elizabeth Howard, counsel to the Democracy Program in the Brennan Center for Justice

“What is the worst that can happen?  Then prepare to accept it.  Then proceed to improve on the worst”    Dale Carnegie

Overseas voters need to now become proactive.  For the general election, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) recommends voters send their Federal Post Card Application by Aug. 1 to ensure ample time to receive their ballot and mail it back before the deadline. When voters use the FPCA, their ballot will be sent at least 45 days before the election.

Ellen Lebelle, a member of AARO, offers good advice to overseas voters, “I would recommend downloading the ballot as soon as it’s available, requesting your ballot to be emailed to you, and sending it off immediately using tracking.  Then, check with the election board by phone, if not given delivered status within 3 weeks.  If ballot is not received within 45 days from the election, use the website’s generated federal write-in ballot and send.”

Voting suggestions to help overseas and military voters:

  1. Due to the current mail situation, voters should request their ballot to be emailed to them.  Not sure if you are registered, or if you requested an email ballot, check your voter status.
  2. Ballots will be sent out 45 days prior to the election.  It is strongly suggested to return the ballot ASAP.  Make sure you follow your states requirements; otherwise, your vote will not count.
  3. What if you are registered and don’t receive your ballot?  Federal Write-in Ballots are accepted.
  4. Other methods to return ballot via mail so it will be received on or before the deadline?    Courier service is expensive and are also having problems. FedEx  DHL   Some Embassies are also having problems and their mail pouch could take up to 4 weeks. US Embassy Israel, “Please note that it can take up to four weeks for mail to reach its destination if sent by diplomatic pouch.” UK Embassy, London’s website, “Please note that it can take at least six weeks for mail to reach its destination if sent by an embassy or consulate via diplomatic pouch.  All overseas U.S. citizens are advised to submit their forms and ballots accordingly.”  (7/13/20)

      What if a friend is going to the states and offered to mail your ballot for you? Check with your election official to make sure it is okay.  Some states will disqualify an overseas voter if the ballot is mailed within the US.

  1. What if your state allows fax, but you do not have a fax machine?     FVAP’s Fax Service enables voters to email their ballots to FVAP fax@fvap.gov   and FVAP will fax the election materials to their election official.  Fax cover sheet –   https://www.fvap.gov/uploads/FVAP/Forms/TransmissionCoversheet.pdf

Now is also the time to reach out to your state representatives, State House Speaker, and State President of the Senate who require “snail mail”.  Many might be up for election this year. Think how many votes he/she might receive if they speak about this issue and encourages their state for 2020 to allow overseas and military voters to fax or email their ballots.  Too many states make it difficult for voters.  If their envelope is not folded a certain way, their vote will not count.  Yes, you can make a difference by speaking up.

YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE.   “By voting, you can hire or fire elected officials.  Your vote is important and by voting you can make a difference: even from overseas.”  Andee Goldman

About the Author
Andee Goldman moved to Israel in 2006 from Las Vegas, Nevada. Since 2008, as a nonpartisan, she has volunteered helping Americans overseas to vote in America's Federal Elections. YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE https://www.nass.org/can-I-vote As an Israeli, she has become a history buff and enjoys sharing her experience and travels around Israel and the world!! Andee is available to answer your voting questions at votingfromabroad@gmail.com
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