With the election just three days away, the Off The Bus team has been hearing from a number of Americans living abroad who said they've run into problems with their absentee ballots. While many expats said they had no trouble voting, others said they've hit complications that could end up disenfranchising them.
The State Department has estimated that 3 million to 6 million American citizens live in other countries. The overseas vote could play a key role in this year's election, yet voting experts say the potential remains for a significant number of these votes to slip through the cracks.
Below, you can hear from some of the far-flung Americans who've written to us. If you or someone you know is living abroad and has had trouble voting, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Czewski wrote:
I'm an American who moved to Canada in May of 2008. My absentee voting experience in 2008 was perfect. No delays, mistakes or complications. This time around, though, not so much.
I thought that I was on a permanent list to automatically receive an absentee ballot for federal elections, but learned in September 2012 that this is not the case. What I'm on is a list through which I'm supposed to automatically receive the form(s) needed to request an absentee ballot. And that would have been fine if the paperwork had been sent to my new Canadian address ... the same address to which the 2008 absentee ballot had been sent. But the forms were sent to my old US address, and I never received them.
I ended up mailing my 2012 request for an absentee ballot on September 25, and confirmed with the clerk that ballots were expected to go out the first week of October.
As of October 21 the ballot still had not arrived, and the clerk confirmed that it had been mailed out during the first week of October. So I waited a little longer, but by October 26, still no ballot.
Here's what I finally had to do to get an absentee ballot: 1) Sign an affidavit swearing that I had not received an absentee ballot. I believe they call this "spoiling" the ballot. 2) Submit a new request for absentee ballot using the Federal Post Card Application, available through http://www.fvap.gov/
I emailed these to the clerk on the morning of October 29, and finally that afternoon received my ballot (via email). I promptly completed the ballot and mailed it in ... and now wonder if it will get there in time to be counted.
Kim Hutchinson wrote:
I'm an American living in Canada, and I've been living across the border since 1990. For the last 20 years, I've been on the permanent absentee voting list and voted seamlessly across the border in every Presidential election. This year is the first that I've experienced problems.
First, in July, before the primary, I called the City Clerk in Pontiac (my last place of residence in the U.S.) to confirm a change of address, as I'd moved within the last two years. Everything seemed to go fine, and I did receive a ballot for the primary ... after the election.
I didn't think about it because I'd already confirmed my place on the list, but this week, I started to worry. A couple of days ago, I called the City Clerk to follow up, and found out that I'd was no longer on the absentee voter's list, which I'd been on for 20 years. (Wha ... ????)
The only explanation that the representative of the Clerk's office could offer was that the State of Michigan had "cleaned up" the voter's list earlier in the year, but she said that happened back in the spring. I had confirmed that I was on [the list] via telephone in July. And I had received my primary ballot in August, even if it was late.
Anyway, I was told I was put back on the permanent voter's list. The Clerk's office asked me to fax in a form, which I did that day. They promised to overnight me an absentee ballot.
Two days later, no ballot. I guess I don't get to vote this year. It's the first time I can remember not voting, and I'm not very happy about it.
Jan Lindner wrote: "My wife and I are Americans living in Canada. We sent in our registration almost a month ago -- and, thanks to Democrats Abroad, we were able to also download write-in ballots and sent them, too. We never saw our official ballots. We have NO idea if our votes were received, or trashed. I do know that our registrations were received, because I'm in the records. So my vote ought to be counted, too. Do I believe it will be? Not much."
Laura Merton wrote: "I registered to vote in the state of Georgia and although I gave them all the information they needed, including responding to questions about my social security number, my ballot never arrived at my home in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. It's now too late."
Dan DeCarlo wrote: "I am a teacher at Jining University and Qufu Normal School in Qufu in Shandong Province. My problem is my ballot never arrived in the mail so I could not vote and return it to Palm Beach County, Florida, where I live. I have to blame the mail service, I guess. This is the first election since 1972 when I voted at age 18 that I have not voted."
Randall Flores wrote: "I followed the instructions and faxed the voting registration form from Shanghai and I requested to receive the absentee ballot by email or surface mail to my overseas address, but I received it at my registered US address. When I tried to register again on line, it directed me to the same form that I faxed before so I gave up."
Zach Wortham wrote: "I am an American living in Guangzhou. I followed all the rules to register and vote in my district (New Braunfels, Texas), but never heard back from the voting office there. I sent my paperwork in by email, courier, and fax. I don't think it will be possible for me to vote now."
Sheila Shulman wrote: "I live here 6 months a year and sent my application for my absentee ballot to the NY State Board of Elections in NYC in March. I left on April 2nd for France. The ballot was supposed to arrive at my NY address but NEVER did."
Kevin Mahoney wrote: "I requested my ballot from San Francisco in plenty of time for it to arrive; it never did."
Amanda May wrote: "I am an American ex-pat living in Florence. My husband used to live in Boulder, CO. We submitted for absentee ballots from CO back in August and have NOT received them. It is KILLING US that we aren't able to vote in the 2012 presidential election!"
George Deaux wrote: "I regularly vote in national elections on an absentee ballot from Pennsylvania. I have had no problems before this year in receiving an absentee ballot. Although I sent my application before the deadline [this year], I have not received a ballot."
Roger Robins wrote:
I was able to vote, but not without difficulty. In March of this year, I mailed my application for an absentee ballot to the County Clerk of the county of my last registered address in the USA (St. Joseph's County, Indiana). Just to be sure, I sent both the Indiana application form, which I downloaded off the state website, following the instructions given there, AND the federal one-size-fits-all HAVA form.
Seven months later, I still hadn't received my absentee ballot yet. So, in early October, I called the country voter registration officer to check on my ballot. She sifted through her records, and eventually found my application. The County Clerk had only forwarded the Indiana form to her, and she explained that it was not the proper form. The link I followed on the state site had taken me to the ordinary absentee ballot application form, but I needed the form for OVERSEAS and military absentee ballots. That form, apparently, isn't linked to other than to the complete instruction booklet for rules governing overseas absentee ballots, which has the application as an accompanying form near the end. But, if you don't know that it's in there, you wouldn't know where to find it. Well, to make a long story short, she did then email the correct form to me as an attachment, I filed it in, and everything proceeded apace after that. I mailed my ballot and was able to confirm via a phone call that it had arrived (a week ago).
What upset me most, though, was something the registration officer said while I had her on the phone during my first inquiry. As she was sifting through what appeared to be a fairly substantial pile of application forms -- apparently forms like mine that were deemed defective or insufficient -- she remarked that most people didn't "follow up" on their applications like I had. I replied, "Do people have to follow up to get their ballots?"
She mumbled a response that I didn't catch, but the conversation left me very concerned that a great many absentee voters who are perfectly eligible to vote, have every right in the world to vote, and have made an honest effort to vote, will be denied that right because of technicalities.
Donna Baillie wrote: "I never received a ballot for this election. I have always received a ballot in good time for past elections, including the 2008 election. I kept expecting it to turn up, and by the time I realised it would not be arriving, it was too late to do anything about it."
Lisa Barrett wrote: "I have voted in every Presidential election, no matter where I lived, since becoming eligible at age 18, in 1979. I have resided in Croydon, South London, since 2001, voting absentee ballots from my last U.S. home in Columbus, Ohio. I've never had a problem until now. My absentee ballot has not arrived and I'm concerned about losing my opportunity (and right) to vote. I made arrangements for this MONTHS ago. When I phoned the Board of Elections on Friday, I kept being told that I needed another person or department, and was promptly cut off. After 6 attempts, I gave up."
Elizabeth Harper wrote: "I'm an American living in Cornwall, England, and this marks my third presidential election overseas. As this October arrived without my ballot, I became worried that it might arrive too late to make my vote count, so I tried to find another way by searching online. It was a bit of a nightmare and I'm still not sure it will be counted even though I followed the directions. After all my worries and work to get my downloaded ballot printed and in the mail, my proper absentee ballot arrived today on November 2."
Pam Warren wrote: "We were traveling on the east coast for work and I was told they could not deliver my US ballot to a hotel because there was too much chance for fraud, so I didn't even get to vote! HOW is that fair?"
Editor's note: Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.