By Beth Brelje
Preliminary election results announced right after an election often include the caveat that officials still need to count the overseas military ballots before finalizing results.
The general voting population in the United States promptly ignores that caveat and runs with the preliminary results. To them, overseas votes are an afterthought.
But policy changes, and a Democratic effort to register international voters, have quietly altered this longtime Republican-leaning, mostly military voting bloc into an unpredictable force with the potential for fraud and the power to sway elections.
Voters Who Never Lived in the US
Absentee voting privileges for those living outside the United States were once only for military members serving abroad. But many people living outside the country can vote, including some who have never lived in the United States.
Passed by Congress in 1986, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows absentee voting by members of the U.S. military and merchant marine; their family members; and U.S. citizens residing outside the United States.
It means, even if they have never lived in the United States and never intend to, people born in other countries to parents who are U.S. citizens are themselves considered U.S. citizens and may vote in U.S. elections. The states that allow voters to register and vote even if they have never lived in that state are listed below.
No Longer Mostly Military
In the past, most UOCAVA voters were connected to the military, a block that often leans Republican.
But in the 2020 election, 63 percent of UOCAVA ballot returns were non-military, while military members and their dependents made up just 37 percent of the total overseas ballot returns, according to data gathered by Verity Vote, a group of citizen volunteers with data research and investigation backgrounds who investigate elections.
Increased Overseas Voting During Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the United States to advise Americans abroad to return home. Business people, study-abroad students, religious missionaries, and holiday travelers returned to the United States in great numbers.
The Department of State (DOS) ordered many employees to return home and to help them, additional rows of seats were installed on contracted airplanes. As of June 1, 2020, DOS had arranged 1,140 flights from 136 countries to bring home 101,386 Americans, a government video describing the effort shows.
IRS records obtained by Verity Vote show at least 805,000 fewer U.S. taxpayers abroad in 2020 compared to 2019. By law, citizens abroad must adhere to tax reporting responsibilities.
“Massive repatriation, a sharp reduction in citizens living overseas, and restrictions on traveling to foreign countries, all decreased the number of U.S. citizens eligible to claim UOCAVA privileges,” the Verity Vote report said.
Yet the number of UOCAVA ballots counted in the United States in 2020 was a record high (913,734) and well above the UOCAVA ballots (671,243) counted in 2016, according to numbers in a 2020 congressional report by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, a program within the Department of Defense that oversees UOCAVA voting.
Post Card Application by Email
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, sponsored in 2009 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), requires all states to accept the Federal Post Card Application as both a voter registration form and an official request for an absentee ballot.
States must accept this card even in the absence of the requester’s proof of identity or citizenship.
An applicant who checks the box showing they have never lived in the United States is not required to provide a Social Security Number or a U.S.-issued driver’s license. They can still receive an absentee ballot and vote in federal races.
Instructions on the Federal Post Card Application available online ask for a U.S. address but say, “You do not need to have any current ties with this address.”
“The applicant must provide a foreign address but can choose to have the ballot delivered via email which renders the foreign address obsolete as a security feature,” the Verity Vote report said.
An email ballot is printed on a voter’s home computer and mailed in.
When you email a ballot to somebody, you are eliminating the important verification of delivering a ballot to an address where they say they are, Heather Honey of Verity Vote said during a recent voter integrity presentation at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Harrisburg.
“If I request a mail ballot in Hershey [Pennsylvania], they’re going to have to mail it to Hershey. If they can’t deliver it to me, the post office is not supposed to forward it. That’s a sort of confirmation that at least it was delivered to that address,” Honey said.
“But if I say I’m in Italy, and I say, ‘Email me the ballot,’ there is no verification that I’m in Italy. There’s no verification that I’m even out of the country. I could be in Harrisburg and request the ballot. So this is a big problem.”
If anyone can get a ballot sent to an email address without verifying their identity, the system, she indicated, is ripe for fraud.
Consider these numbers from the Verity Vote report: The Federal Voting Assistance Program estimated over 41,000 UOCAVA ballots were returned from Canada, the largest number from any country, yet the Department of Defense reports fewer than 1,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Canada.
Arizona allows UOCAVA voters to return their voted ballots by email, fax, or online portal upload, creating another vulnerability as those ballots are printed and counted in counties.
Virginia law does not allow the electronic return of any voted ballots. But in 2020, Virginia reported that 19,809 of the 25,634 non-military UOCAVA ballots were received by email and counted, Verity Vote says.
Voter Registration Effort
The only two partner organizations identified by the Federal Voting Assistance Program are VotefromAbroad.org and the U.S. Vote Foundation, the Verity Vote report says.
“Vote from Abroad advises people on how to use a VPN. While this might be helpful in circumstances where foreign IP addresses are blocked by a particular jurisdiction, it also obscures the origin of ballot requests and submissions,” Verity Vote identified this vulnerability in its report.
Both organizations identify as nonpartisan, but the public disclosure on the Vote from Abroad website says it is a public service of Democrats Abroad, the “official Democratic Party arm for the 9 million Americans living outside the United States.” The first step in requesting a ballot is to fill out a form on the Vote from Abroad website. Voters share personal data that becomes accessible to the Democratic Party.
U.S. Vote Foundation’s website says it is not connected with any U.S. government organization but then says it is partly funded by state and federal research grants. Self-described as a nonprofit, nonpartisan charity, it is also supported through its provision of voter services, private foundation grants, and individual donations. Foundation grantors have included the following left-leaning organizations: The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, JEHT Foundation, The Democracy Fund, Blackrock, and the Knight Foundation.
In 2009, Pew released a report saying military voters were being denied their right to vote in 2008 due to voting impediments. The report, funded by JEHT Foundation, was used as justification by Chuck Schumer to advocate for electronic delivery of ballots to unverified non-military requestors claiming to be U.S. citizens living overseas, the Verity Vote report says.
There was plenty of political support for improving military voting.“But in reality, non-military overseas voters benefited most from the changes—a bait-and-switch,” Verity Vote said.
Results Skewed Democratic
The increase in overseas non-military ballots alone is a remarkable anomaly, and it disproportionately benefited Democratic candidates, Verity Vote said.
Most counties don’t keep records of overseas ballots, but a few counties had circumstances that revealed unexpected results in the 2020 presidential election.
“The only reported full hand recount of electronically returned UOCAVA ballots was conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona. The tally revealed a significant deviation from the razor-thin 50-50 results in the state. The presidential selection on the UOCAVA ballots favored Biden over Trump, 74 percent to 26 percent.
In Fulton County, Georgia, a hand recount of a batch of 950 UOCAVA ballots had zero votes for Donald Trump and 100 percent for Joe Biden, the Verity Vote report said.
A poll worker in a Louisiana County reported 80 percent of UOCAVA ballots were for Biden.
In Cobb County, Georgia, a poll observer challenged the authenticity of the UOCAVA ballots when she realized that 80 to 90 percent were votes for Biden.
A judge of elections in Colorado observed the UOCAVA ballots were 95 percent for Biden, the report said.
In the City of Richmond, Virginia, a poll worker who hand-tallied approximately one thousand ballots showed 85-90 percent Biden.
“The Help America Vote Act requires states to verify the identity of voters prior to accepting ballots in federal elections. Overseas U.S. citizens are subject to the same federal law. The few overseas persons who can claim U.S. citizenship but who have never resided in the U.S. and who have never been issued a social security number, should be required to provide a passport number or some other verifiable form of identification to prove identity and eligibility,” the Verity Vote report concludes.
“It seems reckless to allow the lowest common denominator, as applied to these citizens who’ve never lived in the U.S., to dictate the level of security utilized to protect the vote.”
States that Accept ‘Never Resided’ Votes
In some states, U.S. citizens who were born abroad and have never resided in the United States are eligible to vote absentee. The following states allow these citizens to vote absentee:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia