Senate Democrats raise concerns over ability of US overseas voters to cast ballots
A group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday raised concerns around the ability of overseas U.S. voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming general election due to mail delays and COVID-19 interruptions.
Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sent a letter to almost two dozen U.S. embassies raising concerns around the ability of overseas U.S. voters to participate in the November election.
“In every election, postal delivery issues and strict state deadlines mean that ballots from some voters living abroad go uncounted,” the senators wrote. “Obstacles to voting coupled with concerns that their ballots will not count mean that many Americans living overseas will decide not to vote at all.”
According to the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), there are around 3 million U.S. citizens eligible to vote living overseas, though according to the senators, only around 7 percent of these citizens successfully voted in the 2016 U.S. elections, a number the senators described as “unacceptable.”
“We are deeply concerned that delays and confusion resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will make matters worse,” the senators wrote. “The United States Postal Service (USPS) has warned election officials across the U.S. that the delivery of election mail may be delayed, and the situation may be even worse for many voters living overseas.”
The Senate Democrats asked the U.S. embassies to provide answers by Sept. 16 outlining the steps each embassy was taking to help Americans living in that country to vote, what the current mail delivery time typically was, whether the embassy would allow the use of diplomatic pouch services to send the election mail, and information around voter education campaigns.
The letter was sent to U.S. embassies in countries including the United Kingdom, China, Australia, Mexico, Israel, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, among several others.
The concerns over ballot delivery were raised following weeks of Democratic criticism of recent reforms made to the Postal Service that have slowed down mail delivery, and following repeated attacks on the process of mail-in voting by President Trump.
“We recognize that some conditions that could make voting more difficult may be beyond the control of U.S. officials, but we must take steps now to attempt to overcome the challenges we can address,” the senators wrote on Wednesday. “It is vital that all Americans be able to cast their votes during the pandemic. Many Americans are serving our country overseas and their voices must be heard in the democracy they are working hard to serve.”
The letter to the embassies was sent two months after Klobuchar, Menendez, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and almost a dozen other senators sent a separate letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to take steps to ensure military personnel and other U.S. overseas voters could vote in November.
At the time, 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.”