The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has caused mail disruptions around the world that will undoubtedly impact the many American citizens living and working abroad when it comes time to vote in the November election. As of late June, the United States Postal Service (USPS) lists 103 international mail disruptions — a number that changes regularly.
Voters in 20 states that only allow military and overseas voters to return their voted ballots to their local election officials by mail, will struggle to find a way to cast a ballot in the 2020 elections.
“While the number of voters who may fall into this narrow category could be relatively small, each and every individual vote matters and could change the outcome of an election,” said 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.”
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative Working Group, comprised of 27 state and local election officials from across the nation, convened to specifically address the global mail disruptions and the impact on overseas voters. This group of elections officials, recognizing that they are uniquely positioned to advocate for the voters at issue, compiled a list of available options for states to examine as a fail-safe for overseas voters in order to help prevent potential disenfranchisement.
The recommendations for consideration from this special Fail-Safe Task Force can be found here: https://ovi.csg.org/failsaferecommendations/
“This nonpartisan group felt an urgent need to provide guidance to their peers,” said Taylor Lansdale, project manager for the CSG Overseas Voting Initiative. “CSG was honored by their request to provide a forum for these imperative discussions. The recommendations the group produced are eye-opening and will prove valuable for all states.”
For the 20 states that only allow ballot return via mail, there are limited options to ensure that overseas voters have access to federal election ballots. Further complicating this problem, policymakers have a very limited window of time to make changes to help these voters.
“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.”
To learn more about the work of the Overseas Voting Initiative, visit ovi.csg.org.