Voting Blog

What to do if your FWAB is rejected

Are you worried about your Federal Write in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) getting accepted by your election office in the US? Federal law protects these ballots, and we can help too. If you hear from your local election office that they have turned down your FWAB, please consider sending your election officer the below email, customized to your situation. 

For supporting guidance on FWABs, we recommend reviewing this document from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP.gov).

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Email Ballot Return

Every state is required by the federal Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (the “MOVE Act”) to provide blank absentee ballots to military and overseas voters (“UOCAVA voters”) in at least one electronic format—email, fax or online delivery system.  And, every state must do so at least 45 days before an election.  This year, that deadline is September 19, 2020.

This federal requirement is limited to sending blank ballots to voters.   The MOVE Act allows each state to direct how these ballots are to be returned.  Currently, 35 states and territories have gone beyond the federal requirement to allow UOCAVA voters to submit their voted ballots electronically (email, fax or online) as well.  This leaves 20 states that require return via post.

This year, postal delivery and consular pouches from abroad will be significantly delayed, and in some cases altogether unavailable.  Hundreds of thousands of UOCAVA ballots will be received too late to be counted. What can states do to enfranchise their overseas voters in time for the November 2020 election?

The best solution is to allow and enable ballot return via email.  Twenty-six States already allow emailed ballot return, which attests to its efficiency and relative security; even more states are moving in that direction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In July 2020, Vermont amended its procedures to allow for the email return of ballots from countries that do not have reliable postal service to the United States. In mid-August Rhode Island also shifted its requirements, allowing UOCAVA voters to return their ballots by email rather than fax, Missouri has recently confirmed that it will extend the practice they adopted during their primary and allow email ballot return, and Iowa has also moved to email ballot return. Wyoming is working with its counties to provide either fax or email ballot return for their overseas voters. 

No state in the US handles more ballot returns by email than Washington State, which transmitted more than 100k ballots to UOCAVA voters in 2016. 

King County, Washington, for instance, has assembled a nonpartisan “Alternative Format Ballot Team” within the Elections Administration section to handle email and faxed ballots. The team has its own procedures, guidelines and training; most are paid staff who work for 2-3 weeks during each election season.  The team maintains a secure email account to which voters can email their ballots as attachments; the account is completely separate from the broader state election network to mitigate system infiltration. 

During election season, the team monitors the email account regularly.  When a ballot is received, team members manually download each ballot from the email account, save it to a folder and print it according to their procedures. They also check spam and other background folders to ensure that no ballots are inadvertently sorted there.  Voter authentication is generally ensured by signature verification. Once a ballot is received, printed and stored, the signature is compared to the one on record for that voter. In addition, each ballot has a unique serial number which is connected to that ballot and voter.  Once authenticated, the printed ballots are fed into the tabulating process just as any ballot received via postal mail.  The same basic process is replicated in Oregon and other email states.

Compared to more complicated online voting portals (such as in West Virginia) the security considerations for email ballot return are relatively straightforward. The largest risk vector is attachment security, i.e. someone intercepting an emailed ballot after it is sent by a voter but before it is received by the state elections account.  The two manifestations of that risk are (1) election system infiltration from an intercepted ballot and (2) illicit changes to an intercepted ballot - but these risks are small. To protect against the former, most states already have cybersecurity software that performs a threat scan on all incoming attachments; separating the UOCAVA computer from the broader state election system can further mitigate this risk. Regarding the latter, a one-off opportunity to affect a single ballot is simply not the sort of risk that usually materializes. The larger risk in electronic submission would come from a denial of service attack, which would overwhelm election systems and prevent voted ballots from getting through. DNS attacks are very noticeable events, however, and allow election officials the opportunity to respond with other delivery options.

Privacy considerations also arise with emailed ballots. To be sure, such ballots will not remain private and anonymous, but voters who decide to vote by email are informed and must expressly agree to this as a trade-off for a guaranteed counted vote transmitted with ease. In Oregon, for instance, voters must sign a secret ballot waiver form when voting by email. In King County, Washington, there is an affirmative statement to this effect on the online ballot form. States can also decide to compartmentalize the downloading, printing, authenticating, and counting of emailed ballots, thereby reducing the election personnel exposed to email voter identities. 

The additional costs of implementing an email ballot return system is minimal. Every state already has online voter registration systems, so they also already have certain electronic security protocols in place. Every state already has some personnel to review, authenticate and tabulate UOCAVA votes received via mail, as well. The only additional cost of allowing emailed ballots is the cost of maintaining and checking a separate email account; saving and printing the attachments; and tabulating more votes—which should be the ultimate goal of any election process.  

In the end, all forms of voting carry risks that may be outweighed (or not) by the practicality of enfranchising voters. In 2020, voters face obstacles that have never before been fully appreciated—e.g. the health risk of in-person voting, the disruption of postal services around the world, and the uncertainty of diplomatic pouches. So this year, states that have been slow to modernize their voting methods need to weigh these real and proven obstacles (and guaranteed voter disenfranchisement of several million voters) against the potential cyber risks that would follow from allowing these voters to exercise their right via email—just as a majority of states already allow. 

 


Voting Issues for postal mail voters abroad: US Postal Service return to sender (NIXIE label)

Summary: During the 2018 general election cycle, hundreds of postal mailed ballots and other voting materials were erroneously returned to voters abroad by the USPS from International Service Centers in the US, principally the ISC in NY. The USPS was unable to explain why this material was returned to sender. 

Details: During the course of the research that Democrats Abroad conducted into this issue, we talked with Lori Gaither-Gordon from USPS (a senior consumer manager based in CT) and Lisa Del Rio Leavenworth (Inplant Support – NEA).  

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Three simple steps you can take to protect your vote

As we come closer to the Nov elections, there are still many countries without international postal service due to the Covid pandemic and the USPS is being compromised and undermined in order to deter vote by mail.

In the face of this we are having to take extra care, diligence and determination to ensure that our voted ballots arrive at our local elections office on time to be counted for the Nov elections.

Here are three things that you can do to help make sure your ballot is received on time and counted:

  1. If you voted in the primary, please contact your local elections office to find out if your voted primary ballot was both received and accepted (by ‘accepted’ we mean counted). Knowing this means that if for any reason your primary ballot was NOT accepted, you have the opportunity to correct the issue before the presidential election. Some states may allow you to check the accepted status of your ballot via the resources at the bottom of the state pages, for others you may have to contact your elections office directly.

    If your ballot was rejected please give detail of this in the survey form and also include contact details if you require support in resolving any voter issues ahead of the Nov elections.

  2. If you think there could be any reason for a signature mismatch with your voted ballot (change in marital status for example), please check with your local elections office before you complete your ballot.

  3. If you vote in a state that requires ballot return by mail, please vote NOW using the Backup Ballot (FWAB), in order to get a headstart on the postal delivery. You can also mail in the official ballot which should arrive on Sept 19. If both ballots arrive by the deadline, only your official ballot will be counted; the Backup Ballot will be discarded.

Many thanks and happy voting!

DA Voter Protection
Democrats Abroad
voterprotection@democratsabroad.org


Geo-Blocked Voter Information Pages: Why It’s Happening and How You Can Fix It


Have you tried to access your state’s voter information pages, only to be met with a “Page Not Found” error message? You’re not alone! Some states are “geo-blocking” web traffic from outside the USA, which means access to voter registration, ballot status and other critical information will be denied if you’re using a foreign IP address. 

The solution: Use a VPN

These “firewalls”, intended to improve website security, are keeping U.S. citizens living abroad from accessing critical voter information. You can safely (and legally!) get around this by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN works by routing your device's internet connection through a private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP), so that when your data is transmitted to the internet, it comes from the “location” of the VPN rather than your computer. In this case, you’ll want to use a VPN located in the U.S. to access these blocked pages.

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Vote from Abroad: Voter registration training

 

Help Get Out The Vote (GOTV) in 2020

Are you an American living abroad and want to help register voters that live abroad?
Drop in for one of our voter trainings and learn how easy it is help get out the vote wherever you are around the world!
Event length will vary based on factors but average session 1-2 hrs

Click on the specific dates to RSVP and get the specific login details:

Hosted by DA United Kingdom: August 30th 4pm CEST (10am Eastern)
Hosted by DA Germany: September 2nd 6pm CEST (12pm Eastern)

Hosted by DA Netherlands: September 6th 1pm CEST (7am Eastern)
Hosted By DA United Kingdom: September 10th at 3pm CEST (9am Eastern) *Special FWAB ONLY TRAINING*
Hosted by DA Germany: September 10th at 7:00 pm CEST (1pm Eastern)
Hosted By DA United Kingdom: September 16th at 7pm CEST (1pm Eastern) *Special FWAB ONLY TRAINING*
Hosted by DA Germany: September 17th at 6:00 pm CEST (12pm Eastern)
Hosted by DA Germany: September 28th at 6:00 pm CEST (12pm Eastern)

*this event is for people who already have voter registration experience and would like to learn more about helping people vote the FWAB (official backup ballot)*

 

**if you cannot make an live event you can watch this handy training video (just hit play) to get the basics of voter registration using votefromabroad.org**

Once you have taken a training take this certification quiz. Once you've done that you'll hear from us!

Should you have training questions email: Comms@votefromabroad.org

Here is a handy website to convert the time zone to yours wherever you are in the world.

 


Asistencia Mundial Personalizada para Votar - en vivo

¿Sabías que todos los estadounidenses elegibles que viven en el extranjero pueden votar en las elecciones estadounidenses este año?

¿Tienes preguntas sobre cómo votar? Haz clic en la burbuja de chat en la parte inferior de esta pantalla y contestaremos todas tus preguntas.

Únete a nuestra sesión de ayuda en Zoom todos los domingos hasta el día de las elecciones en noviembre, desde las 00:00 hasta las 24:00 (Hora del Este de los Estados Unidos), para hablar con un voluntario sobre las preguntas que tengas sobre votar desde el extranjero.

¿Cómo funciona en Zoom? Entrarás en la sala principal y serás emparejado con un voluntario, uno a uno, en una sala privada de reunión para asegurar privacidad, y que puedas obtener respuestas a todas tus preguntas. ¡No podría ser más fácil!

Más información: La manera más fácil de solicitar tu boleta es en VoteFromAbroad.org/es. Sólo toma unos minutos completar el formulario y enviarlo al estado de Estados Unidos donde viviste por última vez. Si nunca viviste en Estados Unidos, puedes registrarte utilizando la última dirección de tus padres o familiares. No es necesario poder recibir correo postal en esta dirección, ni tener un vínculo actual con el domicilio.. Si nunca has votado desde el extranjero, el sitio web te guiará paso a paso. En la mayoría de los casos es bastante simple, pero es posible que tengas preguntas adicionales. Por eso estaremos aquí todos los domingos hasta el día de las elecciones para apoyarte.

Si no puedes asistir ningún domingo, puedes enviarnos un correo electrónico a helpdesk@votefromabroad.org, o enviar tu pregunta a través de nuestra burbuja de ayuda en línea, y un voluntario se pondrá en contacto contigo de inmediato.

Haz clic en una fecha para obtener detalles específicos.

Julio 26,  
Agosto 29,  1623, 30
Septiembre 6, 13, 20, 27
Octubre 4, 11, 18, 25
1o de Noviembre

 

Aquí puedes acceder a un sitio web que convertirá la zona horaria del evento a la hora de dondequiera que estés en el mundo.


New Voter Registration Training

Join our voter registration team—protect votes from abroad!

Democrats Abroad sets up Voter Registration events all over the world to help overseas voters makes sure they will get their ballots and VOTE!

Overseas voters need to send in their Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) form to request their ballot every calendar year in which they wish to vote. Our website, www.votefromabroad.org, makes it easy for overseas voters to fill in and submit their form.

To volunteer at a Democrats Abroad Voter Registration event near you, please contact your local chapter of Democrats Abroad. Go to: www.democratsabroad.org and click on "Countries" for contact information--or email us at: gotv@democratsabroad.org

These training materials will provide the background you'll need to volunteer at a voter registration event and help your friends, family, and other overseas voters register to vote and request their ballots. (For your convenience, the training materials are offered either in a training deck OR video format):

 

Questions about voter registration or volunteering? Send an email to the Voter Help Desk at: gotv@democratsabroad.org


HOW TO VOTE USING THE EMERGENCY BACK-UP BALLOT (FWAB)

Is there a possibility your Official ballot won’t get to you in time to meet the ballot return deadlines?

VOTE NOW using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). This emergency Backup Ballot is specifically for overseas voters!

_____________

STEP I. Send in Your Ballot Request form (the Federal Post Card Application or FPCA):

Overseas voters need to submit a Ballot Request form every calendar year.

To fill out and submit your Ballot Request form, click here.

After you send it in, please be sure to verify with your Local Election Official (LEO) that they received your Ballot Request form and will send out your official ballot. You can find the contact information on the State Voting Guide: www.votefromabroad.org/states


STEP II. Fill out and Send in Your Emergency Back-up Ballot (the FWAB):

1. Go to this website and follow the prompts to Fill in the FWAB

2. The website may fill in the candidates for you to choose from. But if it does not, you can type in the candidate’s name.
Or, you can just type in "Democrat" for any office where you don't know the candidate's name. (This doesn't work for Primary elections since all of the candidates will be Democrats!)

3. Follow the instructions to download the PDF Package containing your completed FWAB and Instructions. You can also download templates to paste onto your envelopes if you return your ballot by postal mail.

4. Print out the completed FWAB and the other documents you downloaded. Then read and carefully follow the instructions to SUBMIT the required materials to your LEO.

To Return by Fax or Email: The Instructions will indicate if your state will accept the FWAB by Email or Fax. We recommend you do so to ensure it will be received by the deadline.

  • If your state only allows return by Fax (not Email) and you don’t have access to a fax machine, there are apps that will convert an email attachment to a fax. Scan in your FWAB and any required materials as an email attachment, then search for “fax app for Android/iPhone.” Follow the instructions to convert your email attachment to a fax transmission.

  • Or you can use the Fax service through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP.gov). You will need to email your FWAB and any required supporting materials (see your state’s instructions) to fax@fvap.gov using the FVAP "Fax Transmission Coversheet," which you can find here (Scroll down to "Send in your forms...Email or Fax"). FVAP will then fax your election materials to your Local Election Office.

Return by Mail: If you choose–or if your state requires you–to return your FWAB by postal mail, please follow the instructions carefully.

Two envelopes are required:

  • a “Ballot Security Envelope”–to hold your completed FWAB ballot, and

  • a “Mailing Envelope”–to send in your sealed Ballot Security Envelope as well as the supporting materials with your identifying information.

When the Mailing Envelope reaches the Election Office, they will separate the Ballot Security Envelope from the supporting materials to maintain ballot secrecy.

If you wish, you can follow the instructions to download envelope templates to affix to blank envelopes. If you have your original signed Ballot Request form, include it in the outer “Mailing Envelope”.

__

*IMPORTANT: If you receive your official ballot after submitting your FWAB, you should complete and return your official ballot as well.

It’s okay–only one ballot per person will be counted! If both your FWAB and your official ballot arrive before the deadline, your FWAB will be discarded and only your official ballot will be counted.


LIVE 1-on-1 Voter Assistance for U.S. Citizens Abroad

Scroll down and click on the dates below to RSVP and get connection details and reminders.

Did you know every eligible American living abroad can vote in U.S. elections this year? 

Do you have questions about how to vote? Click the chat bubble at the bottom of this screen and we can help you find the answers. 

But we get it. Sometimes you just want to speak to live person. 

Starting July 26th, join us any Sunday(24hrs), Tuesday, Thursday & Friday (noon-4pm) till November U.S. Eastern time to talk to a volunteer LIVE on Zoom about questions you have about voting from abroad.

How is it done on Zoom? You'll come into the main room and be paired 1:1 with a volunteer into a breakout room to ensure privacy and that you can get all your questions answered. It couldn't be easier. 

More information: The easiest way to request your ballot is at VoteFromAbroad.org. It takes just a few minutes to complete and send in your form to the US state where you last lived. The website will guide you step by step. In most cases it’s pretty simple. But if you’re new to voting abroad, or if you haven’t done it in a while, you may have additional questions. That’s why we’ll be here every Sunday until election day to help.

If you can’t make the 'office hours', you can always email us at helpdesk@votefromabroad.org or send in your question through our online help bubble, and a volunteer will get back to you.

Here is a handy website to convert the time zone to yours wherever you are in the world.

CLICK ON A DATE TO GET SPECIFIC CONNECTION DETAILS & REMINDERS:

Sunday's: 24hrs (U.S. Eastern Time)
September 20th, 27th
October 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th
November 1st

Monday: 2-10pm CEST Hosted by DA United Kingdom (8am-4pm U.S. Eastern)
**September 21st ** 

Tuesday: 6-10pm CEST Hosted by DA France (12-4pm U.S. Eastern)
September 22nd, 29th
October 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th
November 3rd

Thursday: 6-10pm CEST Hosted by DA United Kingdom (12-4pm U.S. Eastern)
September 24th
October 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th

Friday: 6-10pm CEST Hosted by DA Italy & DA Mexico (12-4pm U.S. Eastern)
September 25th
October 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th