The U.S. election is approximately six weeks away, and there’s no doubt that the old cliché is true: this really is the most important election of our lifetime, and perhaps the most consequential American election since the Civil War, both for the United States and for the entire planet. And that’s why every vote will matter—especially votes from abroad.
There are about 6.5 million eligible American voters living overseas, including more than 75,000 living right here in Italy. But shockingly few of them vote—only about 7% of them did so in 2106. This year, Democrats Abroad is working hard to double that number and to send home the equivalent of one million votes. Those votes will be the margin of victory in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina.
One reason why many overseas American do not vote is because they think it is difficult, but in fact it is very easy to do. Voters can register and request their absentee ballot at www.votefromabroad.org, an easy-to use website, and in most cases return their application via email (a few states require that it also be submitted by post)—just be sure to specify that the ballot should be received by email, that the voter’s return to the US is uncertain, and sign the application.
Overseas absentee ballots were released on September 19, so once the request is processed, voters should receive their absentee ballot via email within a week. Follow the instructions assiduously and return the voted ballot immediately. Any deviation from the instructions could be a reason to invalidate the ballot, so voters should take extra care
About 30 states allow voters to return their ballot by email or fax, which makes things even easier, but the remaining 20 require that it be returned by postal mail—and in this pandemic year, this causes some anxiety, given that postal systems both abroad and in the U.S. are experiencing slow-downs. Americans who vote in these twenty states are urged to return their ballots as soon as possible by priority mail or by a courier service (such as Fedex or DHL—though if these are used, be sure that it is properly addressed to the local election office, as couriers will not deliver to PO boxes). The diplomatic pouch at the Embassy and Consulates is also an option, though voters are advised to submit their completed ballots no later than October 13 to ensure timely delivery.
Some states require a witness (any fellow American can serve as such), and some include a special envelope that you have to print, fold, and assemble, while others allow you to use any envelope. Each state is different, so just follow the instructions carefully, and then insert that sealed envelope in another, larger one and address it accordingly.
Even though voting from abroad is very easy to do, voters often have questions and need extra help, and Democrats Abroad provides it. Just write to firstname.lastname@example.org and the team here in Italy will be glad to assist. In addition, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, as well as all day on Sundays, there is live person-to-person voter assistance available on Zoom. Visit the website to find out more.
To help voters understand this process a little more easily, Democrats Abroad Italy has prepared this helpful and instructive video.
And just in case you think your vote from abroad doesn’t matter, think again. In 2018, the only statewide office in Florida won by a Democrat was the Agricultural Commissioner. On election night, she was behind, but refused to concede until all the ballots were counted. Two days later, she won the race thanks to absentee ballots from abroad. In Florida! In 2016, the Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, won his office thanks to votes from abroad, and so too did New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hasan. Votes from abroad have a long history of providing the margin of victory, as former Senator Al Franken will tell you: votes from France alone helped him win his seat in his first race.
Remember that in 2016, the ballot differential in Michigan was less than 11,000 votes; in Wisconsin, it was 15,000 votes; in Pennsylvania, 20,000. If just 10% of the 6.5 eligible Americans residing overseas exercised their constitutional right to vote, it really will make a difference in 2020.
So, waste no time, because November is Now. If you have not yet requested your absentee ballot, please do so today at www.votefromabroad.org
Article written by Bob Vallier, DAI Vice Chair