Days before the global pandemic sent us all into lockdown, dozens upon dozens of registered U.S. voters gathered at the American Club of Buenos Aires to exercise our right to vote (from abroad). Convened by our local chapter of Democrats Abroad – the official Democratic Party arm for millions of Americans living outside of the United States – about a hundred of us living in Argentina added our votes to the 40,000 cast in this year’s Global Presidential Primary. Excitement was in the air… then came COVID19.
With only four months to go before the 2020 General Election, many Americans abroad find ourselves both outraged and encouraged: Outraged by the tragically botched Trump response to the novel coronavirus (+/- 125,000 U.S. deaths as of writing) and encouraged by the nationwide multi-racial upheaval against racism and police violence. Heartbroken by the massive loss of life and certain that health concerns will keep many voters from heading to the polls, we have a president adding insult to injury with his all out offensive against absentee and early voting. At the same time, we’re witnessing an historic shift in public opinion that now embraces the Movement for Black Life and rejects the very bigotry that helped get Donald elected way back in 2016.
VOTING IN THE COVID CONTEXT
Months into the global pandemic, voters across the U.S. are worried about the health risks of in-person voting. As reported by Forbes.com, the Wisconsin primaries alone resulted in 52 COVID19 infections directly linked to in-person polling stations. An obvious alternative would be mail-in voting, an option that allows people to protect themselves, avoid further spread of the virus, and still participate in the democratic process! If Union soldiers could vote by mail in the midst of the Civil War, surely we can figure it out in 2020.
Several states already regularly hold their elections entirely by mail (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah) and a study in the Washington Post found the percentage of potentially fraudulent votes to be minuscule (0.0025%). Lawmakers in these states – Democrats and Republicans alike – praise their voting systems while stressing the importance of establishing an efficient system. Today, 34 states allow voters to request absentee ballots no questions asked while the other 16 require voters to explain why they can’t make it to a polling place. Many states are working hard to increase mail-in access for November, something The Hill details well.
Sadly, in addition to his campaign against the U.S. Postal Service, Trump has made repeated and false claims about increased mail-in voting being tantamount to electoral fraud. According to the New York Times, Trump’s claims lack any credibility and appear to be another ploy to deter his opponents from voting. The fact that Trump himself votes by mail together with several top staffers is just Trump being Trump.
Thanks in part to Democrats Abroad, voting rights for all American expats are enshrined in both the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (1975/76) and Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986. For those of us living outside of the U.S., the levels of difficulty to access mail-in voting differs from state to state as well as country of residence. Argentina is no exception.
First of all, U.S. voters abroad must re-register every calendar year, wait for ballots that often don’t arrive, receive and send them back within the set deadlines, and later confirm with our local officials if our vote was even counted. While some states now allow international voters to cast our ballots by email, most do not. This makes it additionally complicated for those living in countries with less-than-reliable postal services to vote, and those considering the use of private couriers face costs of over $50 USD to send a single ballot home to the United States. One simple step would be for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, as well as all others around the world, to facilitate the mail-in process (as has been done in the past).
As noted in DA’s Tiny Actions section, “if we are to have safe, healthy, and fair elections this year, Americans at home must make widespread use of mail ballots, while Americans abroad must have the ability to return their ballots securely via email or web portal”. To make sure this happens, we strongly encourage all Americans – whatever our political stripe – to contact Congress and demand action on this issue.
2020 calls for it, as does the democratic process.