For the estimated 6 to 9 million American citizens living outside the U.S., voting has always meant planning ahead. Still, 2020 is especially tricky.
Voting laws vary state by state. Connecticut, for instance, does not allow electronic delivery of ballots. All ballots must be returned to clerks by postal mail. But with coronavirus closing borders and mail service disruptions, residents abroad are facing significant obstacles.
Connecticut Public Radio’s Diane Orson reached out to three U.S. citizens voting from overseas. Connecticut resident Rebecca Ross Russell lives in Tanzania. Her mother, Dorothy Goldberg, is a resident of Oregon but currently in Denmark. And New Jersey resident David S. Miller lives in Denmark and is vice-chair of Democrats Abroad Denmark, which helps voters of all parties cast their ballots through its website.
What follow are highlights of their conversation:
DO: Dorothy, let’s turn to you first. What has been your voting experience this year?
DG: I moved from Connecticut to Portland, Oregon, in September 2019. And the first thing that I noticed after I registered is that all of Oregon’s voting is done by mail. Nobody goes in and votes. Everybody votes by mail. So I voted by mail in the primary and then I was intending to be back for Nov. 3rd, but I ended up being able to come to Denmark. So my plans changed and I used vote-from-abroad-dot-org to vote, and it was really very easy. I was able to download the ballot, and I was able to scan it and email it back. They didn’t even ask me to put it in the mail at all. So it was very easy in Oregon. They really are set up for that.
DO: Now Bekka, you’re a resident of Connecticut and Tanzania. Can you describe how your voting experience is this year?
BRR: Mine has been a lot less smooth. To be honest, with Tanzanian mail I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I have to either drop the ballot in person in Dar es Salaam -- but there’s only about two days that you can do that and that’s about a 14-hour drive from here, and we’re trying not to fly because of coronavirus -- or we can mail it back.
DO: And have you contacted your embassy or requested any help from officials in Tanzania?
BRR: The embassy actually got in touch with us. I’m on the list of American citizens living in Tanzania. And they basically said it’s really hard. Don’t mess it up. You know, it’s a very complex process.
DO: This is an unprecedented election in unprecedented and very uncertain times, and I’m wondering what it feels like to be in this rather frustrating situation of not being able to be assured that your vote will make it?
BRR: To be honest, I am relieved that I’m not in a swing state because I think in that case it would be a lot more difficult. My feeling is that my candidate is very likely to be chosen by Connecticut, and so I’m less stressed out about it than I would be. But it’s hard. And I think it’s an ongoing problem. And in an election where my vote was more likely to be part of the swing, this would not work. I would need a better solution, truthfully.
DO: David, what are you hearing from U.S. residents living in Denmark about their voting experiences?
DM: Well, there’s some confusion because each individual state decides how they’re going to do it. There are some uniform rules, for instance the 45-day rule of sending ballots to Americans living abroad. That’s for all states. But otherwise whether it’s via email or online or postal mail or whatever, it’s up to the individual states.
Democrats Abroad, leading up to the election every Sunday because we’re a global organization, we have 24 hours of online voter assistance via Zoom where anybody -- Democrat, Republican, Independent -- if you’re voting from abroad you can get live assistance via Zoom. You could sort of say because of COVID and the use of Zoom, we’ve thought of ways instead of in-person voter assistance, we’re making it more accessible for Americans all over the world to vote and get help in voting.