Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata
Alex Montgomery [DPCA-Leadership] Wed, Jun 10, 2015 at 4:35 PM
  
Hi Leaders,
 
On behalf of the EXCOM, I want to summarize and clarify a number of points related to voter registration and ballot requests. We encourage those who are interested in continuing this conversation do so on the Comments on Voter Registration page.

Helping our members and potential members complete the process of voting from abroad (registering/requesting a ballot and getting it in by the correct deadline) is one of our core functions and the most direct way that we build influence and political power as an organization.
 
We exclusively recommend that overseas voters request a ballot with the FPCA every year for two reasons: 
  • it is the simplest and most accurate way to ensure a voter's ballot request will be honored no matter how your state or local election official administers elections, and, 
  • it provides the voter, Democrats Abroad, and the Federal Government the best possible recourse for ensuring votes are counted when Local Election Officials make mistakes or abridge the rights of overseas voters.
The easiest and most accurate tool to complete the FPCA is VoteFromAbroad.org.
 
Federal elections are administered by thousands of counties and other jurisdictions based on 51 different sets of state laws as well as federal laws. With that amount of variety there are undoubtedly states and counties that, intentionally or not, abridge the voting rights of overseas voters.  
 
The FPCA was created under UOCAVA (The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act), which also authorizes the Attorney General to bring civil actions to enforce its requirements.  This is not just conjecture— the Civil Rights Division of the AG has brought numerous lawsuits against States for violating the voting rights of overseas citizens as shown on this page: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/litigation/caselist.php#uocava_cases .
 
The DPCA will provide Voter Registration training as the 2016 elections get closer where we will go into specifics about how to make the overseas voting process as straight forward and easy as possible for overseas voters. Please remember that your role is to facilitate that process and make sure that overseas voters know their votes will be counted. Think of yourself as an overseas voting coach more than an overseas voting expert (you can always send the person to our voter help desk for answers to specific questions).
 
Democrats Abroad regularly assess the options for overseas voters and if you would like to volunteer to help our Voter Registration team research, create training, and resources, and help country committees, please let us know.
 
Alex Montgomery 
Regional Vice-Chair for Asia-Pacific & Acting Communications Director
Democrats Abroad 
Will Bakker [DPCA-Leadership] Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 6:43 PM
 

 

Dear DA leaders,

In 2014, I was part of the global leadership in helping Americans living abroad to vote in the midterm elections. This conversation is an opportunity to make three points about helping voters receive and vote their overseas absentee ballots, a core mission of Democrats Abroad at every level.

1. VoteFromAbroad.org is always a good answer to the question, “How can I make sure that I receive a ballot while living abroad?” The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is the most reliable way to request, receive, and ensure the counting of one’s ballot as an American living abroad. 

2. It doesn’t matter which state an American abroad last resided in,  VoteFromAbroad.org will provide accurate instructions to receive a ballot for Federal elections (President, Vice-President, Congressional Representatives and Senators) using the FPCA.

3. If one needs information or help beyond the instructions provided by VoteFromAbroad.org, Democrats Abroad provides centralized global assistance to answer difficult questions and to handle voters’ problems whether simple or complex.

To put it simply:
Democrats Abroad officially, consistently, and without exceptions, recommends the use of the FPCA. That includes sending an FPCA every election year, even if one already received a ballot. The easiest and most accurate tool to complete the FPCA is:

 VoteFromAbroad.org



Note the following points:

- For many states, there is more than one valid method for an overseas voter to receive a ballot. Some Americans living overseas are in a position to make a well-informed choice among those methods, and in the course of speaking with voters, DA’s volunteers and leaders should always be respectful. Nobody in DA knows everything about voting, and arguing with knowledgeable voters isn’t going to make them more likely to vote Democratic.

- DA’s official recommendations are intended to guide non-expert overseas voters and our own volunteers on the ground who help them. Our goal is to turn out voters who might otherwise be hindered by the obstacles to voting from abroad. In pursuing this goal, it is rarely helpful to draw fine distinctions among the steps that are combined in the FPCA application. We are fortunate that the FPCA provides a simplified process that we can rely on, no matter the individual voter’s situation — and that there is ample talent within DA to provide a backstop of detailed information when necessary. (Not that these things are a matter of good luck; we stand on the shoulders of great DA leaders who contributed to the framework for the FPCA and developed that talent within DA.)

- DA’s recommendations do not imply that completing the FPCA is required in all cases or for all voters. Nevertheless, there are no known cases where submitting an accurate FPCA actually hindered someone’s ability to vote. In other words, submitting an FPCA does no harm to voters.


Moving to the details:


1. If an American living abroad says, “Please help me receive and cast a ballot for the election this year,” it is ALWAYS a good answer to say, “Use VoteFromAbroad.org to fill out and print an FPCA, along with instructions on how to deliver it to the proper election official.”


I’m not talking about whether this is the comprehensive answer for a particular voter. The value here is that I am confident that is that this is a good answer.* The VFA system is designed to avoid the situation where a DA Voter Registration Table/Booth/Meeting would need to have 51 experts on the subtleties of state (and DC) law and their interactions with Federal statutes and case law.

Many states have parallel absentee voter systems that work very well. Few states have absentee voter systems that are clear and easy to use for an American residing abroad, but that number is increasing for a variety of reasons. Several members of the International Executive Committee are paying close attention to the long-term implications of this trend. For example, one open question is whether using a state's system to register or request a ballot has different implications for tax residency. Regardless, there is no question that for 2016, VoteFromAbroad.org will continue to be the best tool overall for those of us who help fellow Americans to receive their ballots.

We should get in the habit of saying “assist” and “help” a lot. We help voters request their ballots and/or register to vote, but they do the work. This isn’t just a matter of terminology — we should not take possession of completed FPCA forms as a general rule, and we should NEVER take possession of ballots. Many states have regulations that go as far as making it a felony for a civilian to interrupt the chain from voter to postal service (or electronic medium or Embassy personnel) to the election official.

2. Every state has different internal practices and rules for distributing, submitting, and counting ballots. Some practices even vary from county to county within states.


The closest thing we have to an encyclopedia of state practices is FVAP’s Voter Assistance Guide and it focuses on the FPCA, rather than each state’s unique alternative processes. Is there a need for anything more? For the mission of helping voters receive and vote ballots for Federal offices, the answer is NO.

State practices are a key concern for Democrats Abroad as an organization and we have experts working in several areas. DA leaders advocate for new Federal legislation to simplify the process further and ensure that overseas ballots count; look at recent DPCA resolutions. DA global committees pressure states to conform with present Federal regulations and the simple demands of justice, e.g. legal action in Kansas and further research into which states “throw out” UOCAVA voters' registration information and how frequently. DA global committees also continue to work out the details of down-ballot voting (i.e. non-Federal offices) and participate in voter-protection actions with state parties and state authorities.

DA’s legal minds are concerned about how overseas ballots would be counted or challenged in a recount, and there is precedent for throwing out absentee ballots that missed some absurdly minor step in the registration process. There are all kinds of oddities in the details of state election laws. Some state laws call for absentee ballots not specifically requested from an election official to be considered provisional or open to challenge — and it’s awfully hard to respond to such a challenge when one lives abroad. While Colorado may maintain a “permanent UOCAVA list” for the convenience of all concerned, having one’s name on a legally meaningless list is a far weaker defense than filing a current FPCA, particularly against legal tactics that often brush aside common sense.** That’s the conclusion that we reached for Colorado in 2014, when we anticipated a recount in either of the close House or Senate races.
The best advice to everyone in 2014 was to submit an FPCA in order to create a paper trail to support one's overseas ballot. That advice is in place for 2015’s special elections and likely to hold for 2016’s general elections as well. 

HERE’S THE KEY POINT: The FPCA is intended to make all these state and local practices and rules irrelevant to individual voters who just want to receive a ballot and vote. Democrats Abroad officially, consistently, and without exceptions, recommends the use of the FPCA as it is intended.


3. If you are talking to a voter who wants more information about the details of the process, deeper perspectives on American electoral law, or alternatives to the FPCA, your best resource is help@democratsabroad.org for individual help and the DA GOTV wiki for background documents.


HERE’S THE KEY POINT: There is NO NEED to know the details of each state’s process (or the text of Federal law) to help a voter receive a ballot in 2016. Any volunteer can walk voters through VoteFromAbroad.org.  After a brief training session (on paper, in person, or via WebEx), any volunteer can answer every practical question or obstacle that might come up, such as, “I think there’s a park where my old residence used to be. What should I use for my address?” or “I don’t have my Social Security Number with me."

If problems arise, like a voter receiving an official refusal to provide a ballot, or not receiving a ballot in time, then Democrats Abroad can help through our global troubleshooting team. Again, the resources are there to back you up, precisely so that you don’t need to read Federal and state laws and puzzle it out for yourself.

There are overseas voters with misconceptions or confusions about voting that might keep their ballot from being counted or arriving at all. Democrats Abroad also recommends to our volunteers a few rules of thumb to keep voters from finding themselves in the situation where they have no ballot and it’s too late to vote in an important election. “You should submit an FPCA every election year” is an example of an universal rule of thumb that can prevent a host of difficulties that vary from state to state and even county to county.

Many of us who have staffed public voter-registration tables have regretted saying, “You should submit an FPCA every election year,” to a self-assured master of voting in a particular state or county who disagrees vehemently — usually backed up by a story of unique experiences and even a personal relationship with a local election official (LEO). In my opinion, such a maestro of the electoral system is already likely to vote, and arguing in public is only going to make it less likely that bystanders will approach the table at all.

Nobody expects us to be experts in election law. So rather than preparing for an unwinnable debate over the ever-changing details of state and Federal law, why not grant the superiority of one’s interlocutor and if necessary, point them to help@votefromabroad.org and say that DA's voting-law-nerds would love to chat?


The recent discussion here has been interesting and will no doubt contribute to the planning of the global VR/GOTV team for the 2016 elections. And yet, my fellow leaders and volunteers in Democrats Abroad, I worry that the strong opinions and arcane details mentioned this week may distract from the practicalities of actually helping voters, a core mission of Democrats Abroad. So I’ll write it one more time:

Democrats Abroad officially, consistently, and without exceptions, recommends the use of the FPCA. That includes sending an FPCA every election year, even if one already received a ballot. The easiest and most accurate tool to complete the FPCA is:

 VoteFromAbroad.org


Yours,
Will Bakker


Chair, DA-Luxembourg
Member of DA’s Ad-hoc Group for Overseas Voter Protection in Kansas***
Former Intl ExCom Liaison to DA's Global VR/GOTV Committee
Former Intl ExCom Liaison to the DNC’s Voter Protection Group (now called the Voter Expansion Group)


* In some situations after certain deadlines pass, it is important to add something about the FWAB. That’s beside the point of this conversation, so if you’re curious, check out: 2016 VI-GOTV Wiki Home Page
** In fact, Colorado’s Secretary of State recommends that voters "submit a FPCA each year to update their information with the county clerk.” http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/FAQs/UOCAVA.html  Yes, one could also use Colorado’s unique online registration system to update that information. I am not a lawyer, but I see a huge advantage to using the FEDERAL Post Card Application: If your absentee ballot is challenged or a county clerk fails to send your ballot, it’s that much easier to make a Federal case out of your disenfranchisement.
*** I just made up that name, but the group really does exist.

 

 

 

  • No labels