Cybersecurity

Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November

A group of Senate Democrats led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Bob Menendez (N.J.) are urging the State Department to take steps to ensure military personnel and other Americans living overseas are able to vote in the November general election.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent last week, the group of more than a dozen senators asked for details on the agency's plan to ensure all Americans living overseas were able to receive and send back absentee ballots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic continues to restrict travel and mail service in many countries around the world," the senators wrote. "Without proper planning, this could jeopardize the ability for Americans overseas, including U.S. service members and diplomats, to vote in the November election."

They pointed to concerns around U.S. embassies and consulates, normally responsible for assisting with the voting process for those living overseas, not being fully staffed during the pandemic. The senators also questioned whether embassies were planning voting information campaigns, and what the process was for those living near embassies and consulates to drop off their ballots.

"We recognize that there may be conditions in individual countries that are beyond the control of U.S. officials that could make voting more difficult, but we must take steps now to attempt to overcome those challenges," the Democrats wrote. 

A spokesperson for the State Department told The Hill that the agency "is committed to ensuring that U.S. citizens abroad are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so - from anywhere in the world. Our embassies and consulates communicate regularly to U.S. citizens regarding options available to register to vote and to vote from overseas."

The spokesperson noted that "U.S. citizens can receive an absentee ballot by email, fax, or internet download, depending on the state they are eligible to vote in," pointing to the Defense Department's Federal Voting Assistance Program's website for more information on how military personnel and their families living overseas can vote absentee. 

The State Department spokesperson emphasized that U.S. citizens overseas may submit their ballot through the mail or by dropping it at U.S. embassies and consulates, and said if the embassy or consulate cannot take ballots, they will alert citizens to "alternate methods to mail a completed ballot back to their local voting offices in the United States."

The letter was sent on the heels of Democrats, voting rights groups, and other advocacy organizations ramping up pressure on Congress to pass legislation to increase mail-in voting during the 2020 primary and general elections due to concerns around the pandemic. 

Klobuchar and Wyden introduced legislation in March that would expand early and mail-in voting. Klobuchar attempted to push the bill through the Senate last month, but was blocked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) citing concerns around federalizing elections. 

Congress did appropriate $400 million to states to address election challenges stemming from the pandemic as part of the stimulus package signed into law by President Trump in March. 

Blunt, who serves as chairman of the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee, noted that he would support potentially sending states more funding in the next stimulus bill. Experts have urged Congress to appropriate a further $3.6 billion to states to ensure elections can move forward smoothly.

"It is paramount that all Americans be able to cast their votes during the pandemic," the Senate Democrats wrote to the State Department. "Many Americans are serving our country overseas and their voices must be heard in the democracy they are working hard to protect and serve."

-Updated at 6:10 p.m. to include input from the State Department.

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