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Election 2020: Americans living abroad fear that their vote will not arrive on time

He emailed his local election official in Bergen County, New Jersey, with the forms requesting an absentee ballot in May – earlier than he normally would, but given the coronavirus pandemic, he wanted to be prepared.

He did not hear back for several months.

Silverang lives in Espoo, a town in Finland. He has lived abroad for 33 years. But this is the first time it has taken his local election office months to respond to his absent application for a vote. After sending an inquiry through the Bergen County election website threatening to sue if they did not respond, an election official sent back an email in early September confirming that his application had been received and his vote would be sent. He received his vote by email Saturday.

The constituency in Bergen county said in a statement to CNN on Saturday that it per. Friday had sent ballots to more than 2,000 military and overseas voters, but with 600,000 voters in the county, it would “be impossible to call, email or send a receipt for each person.”


Silverang is one of approx. 5 million Americans living abroad, of which approx. 3 million are eligible to vote. There are an additional 172,000 active service personnel serving abroad, said David Beirne, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which provides information and resources on voting for Americans abroad. Out of all Americans living abroad, 67.5% voted for the post at the 2018 election, according to the comprehensive report on the Electoral Administration and the 2018 poll.

Slow mail, late polls

Many Americans abroad, such as Silverang, are concerned that slower mail in the United States due to policy changes implemented by the new postmaster over the summer and abroad could cause their vote to arrive late and not count in the parliamentary elections. To ensure their vote is counted, Silverang and other U.S. ex-pats that CNN spoke to took a proactive approach, reaching out to their local election officials and checking to make sure their absentee ballots and ballots were received.

Julia Byran, global chair of Democrats Abroad, an affiliated Democratic National Committee that provides help and guidance on voting abroad to Americans living in 197 countries, said she was concerned about absenteeism votes sent from abroad being spoken in the parliamentary election after seeing some of the problems with absent ballot papers sent to the domestic market and received too late to be counted in the primary election this year.

Americans abroad are facing major obstacles that ensure their vote is counted in November

“That’s definitely our concern. The only thing we can do is try to fight it by making sure people vote early, so our biggest tagline is: November is now,” Bryan said.

Federal law requires states to send absent ballot papers to voters residing abroad who have requested them 45 days before election day, meaning all states must send their ballot papers to voters abroad by September 19th.

Because of concerns about mail in the U.S. and in some other countries affected by coronavirus that has experienced mail delays, Democrats abroad recommended that voters living outside the U.S. fill out a federal ballot in August and send it, regardless of whether or they had not requested an abstention vote. FWAB can be sent at any time by voters living abroad. If a county election office receives FWAB, and then a voter abroad also sends an absent vote separately, FWAB will be discarded, Bryan said.

Four years ago, 44.4% of ballot papers sent from abroad were rejected because they arrived late, according to the comprehensive report on election administration and the 2016 poll.

“We started just as early in the cycle and called all our members and got these solutions on how to overcome these problems,” Bryan said. “A big part of the challenge of voting abroad is logistics, so one of the things we do is think logistically.”

Do not wait until November.  This election is happening now.

Chris Hatfield, an American who has lived abroad in South America and Europe for six years and currently lives in Madrid, filled out his FWAB early after receiving emails from Democrats Abroad recommending that he do so. He is also in contact with his local election official in Fauquier County, Virginia.

“I wrote to my local election official specifically about the emergency ballot, mostly to ask if there was no way to vote not by mail, to vote by email or fax, and she said in Virginia that it is not possible. , “Hatfield said. “She recommended voting as soon as possible.”

In Virginia, you can check if your vote was received online. Hatfield has not yet received his vote, but plans to send it back as soon as he receives it electronically and will check online to make sure it arrives, he said.

“I’m glad I’m sitting on the Democrats Abroad listserv, and it’s nice that they’re trying to help make it easier for people to vote, but if I were not, I would not have sent this emergency vote. Said Hatfield. “It should not be up to a private organization or an email listerv to ensure that I am able to vote.”

Voting in limbo

In Pennsylvania, legal battles prevented the state from completing the state-certified ballot and sending absenteeism and dispatch ballots on Monday, the first day they would normally have been able to do so.

But the state allowed county officials to send ballot papers to overseas voters before the Sept. 19 deadline without waiting for the ballot to be completed.

“The counties do not have to wait for polling certificates to start sending overseas polls. Some counties have already started sending them,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Communications Wanda Murren told CNN.

Andrew Griffith, a cartoonist living in Peru, contacted his local election office in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, to ask if he could get an absentee ballot. They said they were sending votes and had sent them as early as mid-August.

To begin with, Griffith could not send his vote back because the post office and printing works in Peru were shut down due to coronavirus. Last week, Griffith was able to download his ballot, print it and send it back after the Peru Post Office opened. But given the challenges of mail in Peru and the United States, Griffith is still concerned that his vote arrives in time to be spoken.

“I’m too nervous about everything going on this year. I’m afraid of confirmation of signatures. I’m afraid it will not get there in time or be lost in the mail,” Griffith said.

Griffith called his local polling station Thursday to see if they had yet received his vote. He plans to keep calling until it is received.

“As far as patriotic responsibilities and duties are concerned, this is about the least anyone can do,” Griffith said. “You can see what effect American governance can have on the world. I feel like it’s something very important. I feel it’s the least we can do as our civic duty.”

Serves and votes abroad

U.S. service members stationed outside the United States must also request an absentee ballot from their local polling stations to vote while living abroad. The military has voting assistant officers stationed in each unit designated to assist members and their families in accessing voting resources and keeping abreast of upcoming deadlines.

Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine Corps general, now works with an organization called Count Every Hero, which is dedicated to helping service members abroad vote and working to ensure their votes are counted back in the United States. While in the Marine Corps, Zinni voted from Germany, Japan and at the same time posted in Vietnam.

“We started teaching our Marines what the Constitution is about. If you want to defend it, you have to understand it and know what it is and the rights you are protecting, our citizens, our way of life,” Zinni said. “We want them to understand that the rights they protect, they have to engage in and benefit from, so part of that is education.”

Many younger members of the military may be voting for the first time while living abroad. For the newer voters, they may need extra help to register because the experience of voting abroad is different from doing it at home, Zinni said.

“We want to make sure that any available help is provided to them to exercise this right,” Zinni said. “It is part of good citizenship as well as being a member of the armed services that defends these rights.”

This story has been updated with a statement from the Bergen County Clerk’s Election Division.

Jennifer Hansler and Kelly Mena contributed to this report.

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