Iowa, Missouri, Rhode Island and Vermont Act to Protect the Rights of Overseas Voters; Other States Should Follow

Washington, D.C., August 24: Democrats Abroad applauds the states of Iowa, Missouri, Rhode Island and Vermont for adapting their voting rules to ensure that their citizens overseas are able to vote this year, despite major mail service disruptions across the globe. 

In Rhode Island, voters may now return their ballots by email, Missouri has also confirmed that they will allow voters abroad to return their ballots by email, extending a practice they began in their state primary elections, and Iowa’s Legislative Council has approved Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s Emergency Election Directive for the General Election allowing email ballot return for abroad voters. 

In Vermont, as part of a series of statewide elections directives issued by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, Vermonters living in countries experiencing mail service suspension to the U.S. are now allowed to return ballots by email. 

**UPDATE AUGUST 31** Wyoming is now rolling out email and fax ballot return options for voters abroad. Ballot return options differ on a county by county basis, so we recommend that voters get in touch with their local election office directly for more information. State election office contact details available here

Democrats Abroad encourages other states to take the same approach to ensure enfranchisement of citizens and military voters overseas.

The State Department estimates that there are over 6 million eligible U.S. voters living outside the U.S. country, yet less than a million received ballots in 2016.  This is largely due to legal and practical obstacles, such as reliance on postal channels and tight return deadlines. Receiving and returning ballots from abroad is a challenge in the best of circumstances and will be nearly impossible from many countries this year. As of mid-July, the United States Postal Service listed mail suspension and delays from 162 countries.[1] Embassies are also unable to help, as several embassies are no longer accepting ballots for return by diplomatic pouch, while many are announcing that voters should plan for weeks of delay if they send their ballots via the diplomatic pouch.

Permitting email or fax return of ballots is the answer. Either are more reliable, safer, and quicker than any other method, especially during a pandemic scenario impacting the postal mail system[3].  Indeed, at least one of these options are already permitted by 34 states and territories for their voters residing abroad.[2] Without this option, overseas voters from states and territories that require ballot return by diplomatic pouch or postal mail may be unable to cast a recorded vote in the 2020 election.

In the current pandemic scenario, we urge the governors and secretaries of state of the remaining states to follow Iowa, Missouri, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming’s lead. These states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In four of those states (Alabama, Maryland, Ohio, and Virginia), the law expressly allows the secretary of state or commissioner of elections to adopt special emergency procedures for overseas voters, so no changes to the law would be necessary to facilitate overseas voter access. In the other states, we ask that state legislators urgently consider emergency legislation or, if necessary, that Governors consider executive action.

About Democrats Abroad

Democrats Abroad (democratsabroad.org) represents the interests and values of Democratic Americans living abroad. Recognized as a state party by the DNC, and represented at the convention by 24 delegates, Democrats Abroad is the official Democratic Party arm for the millions of Americans living outside the United States, striving to provide Americans abroad a Democratic voice in our government and to mobilize the overseas vote. Democrats Abroad includes 45 active country committees, and our members live in more than 190 countries around the globe, voting in every state and Congressional district in the U.S. 

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For additional information, contact:

Aaron Fishbone

Global Communications Director 

comms@democratsabroad.org

 

[1] https://about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts/international/welcome.htm

[2] https://www.fvap.gov/covid-19

[3]Comparative Risk Analysis of the Current UOCAVA Voting System and an Electronic Alternative.” February 28, 2013.
The Executive Summary of the report explains that in order to ensure that UOCAVA voters are able to cast their votes securely and accurately, it’s not enough to debate the potential risks associated with electronic (internet) voting without considering the risks associated with the current postal-based absentee voting processes