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US election countdown: six reasons to get your absentee ballot now

The countdown to the 2020 US election on Tuesday November 3rd has begun. Around three million Americans abroad are eligible to vote.

US election countdown: six reasons to get your absentee ballot now
Photos: Getty Images

We asked The Local’s American readers about the process of voting by absentee ballot. Many told us it’s easy once you try – and some have been voting from abroad for decades. Others remarked on differences between state rules or response times.

One thing is clear: the earlier you request and return your ballot, the better. Here, in partnership with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), we look at six reasons to get your absentee ballot as early as possible if you want to make your voice heard.

One vote in only two steps

Step one: You register to vote and request your absentee ballot using one form: the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Once, you’ve done that, send it to your election office as soon as possible. Using the FPCA, ensures your state will send you your ballot at least 45 days before the election – a protection not guaranteed with other forms. 

Step two: make your voting choice and send back your ballot. You’re advised to do this as soon as you receive the ballot – which should be by early October. The recommended vote-by-date from abroad – to allow for any mail delays – is October 13. But why leave it to the last minute? 

Request your absentee ballot now and get state-specific instructions on how to return it

Be an early bird with email

From the ‘Sunshine State’ of Florida to the Arctic chill of Alaska, every state allows you to receive your absentee ballot by email – just choose this option when filling out the FPCA. Your state may also allow you to email your FPCA to them – you can find that out right after filling it out. It’s also worth checking the options in your state to see if you can return your ballot electronically. 

Mike August voted absentee for California in 2016 while living in Paris. “It went pretty smoothly,” he said. “We chose the emailed ballot option to avoid mail delays; we got confirmation of receipt soon thereafter.”

If you plan to mail your ballot this year, FVAP recommends contacting your local post office about possible delivery delays due to Covid-19 (more information can be found here and updates from the United States Postal Service on international disruptions here). 

Vote from anywhere!

Americans can be found in all parts of the world. But as a US citizen, you can request your ballot be sent anywhere – so your location is no excuse not to vote! 

Canada has the most eligible US voters abroad with more than 600,000 in 2016. In Europe, the UK has the most, followed by France, Germany and Italy (you can scroll over and zoom in on the map below for more details). After sending in your ballot, you can check its status at FVAP.gov to see when your election office receives it.

 
Sarah Mullin, who lives in Rennes in northwest France, told us she has voted by absentee ballot for over 20 years from South Africa, Canada and now France – all “with no problems whatsoever”.

Are you an American abroad? Start filling out your FPCA now – and choose to receive your ballot by email

Use online help 

Find form-filling tiresome or confusing? Don’t worry. There's no need to put it off. On FVAP.gov, you can use an online assistant to help you fill out the FPCA – and have you ready to sign it and send it off in no time.

All the information you need on where and how to send in your form by mail, email or fax – depending on what your state allows – will be provided.

Simple residence rules 

Not sure about your voting residence (the US state or territory where you register to vote)? Don't let that slow you down either. It’s likely to be your legal residence in the US or the US address where you last resided. 

You can find further information on working out your voting residence here. In future, it’s best to send in a new FPCA every January – and whenever you move home. 

There’s even a back-up ballot …

One final reason to request your ballot early is so you'll know where you stand and whether you may need to use a back-up. If you've already requested your ballot but haven’t received it, you can contact your election office for information about your ballot’s status. Even if you don’t receive it in time to meet your state’s deadline, you can still vote. 

Just use a FWAB! That’s a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. A few states may even allow you to use a FWAB even if you hadn’t already requested a regular ballot.

If you are an American abroad, you can request your absentee ballot via email on FVAP.gov now and find out everything you need to know about voting

 

 

 

 

 

ELECTION

German Greens’ chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news

With Germany's Green party leading the polls ahead of September's general elections, the ecologists' would-be successor to Angela Merkel has become increasingly targeted by internet trolls and fake news in recent weeks.

German Greens' chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news
The Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on April 26th. Photo: DPA

From wild claims about CO2-emitting cats and dogs to George Soros photo collages, 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock has been the subject of a dizzying array of fake news, conspiracy theories and online attacks since she was announced as the Greens’ chancellor candidate in mid-April.

The latest polls have the Greens either ahead of or level with Merkel’s ruling conservatives, as the once fringe party further establishes itself as a leading electoral force in Europe’s biggest economy.

Baerbock herself also consistently polls higher than her conservative and centre-left rivals in the race to succeed Merkel, who will leave office after 16 years this autumn.

Yet her popularity has also brought about unwanted attention and a glut of fake news stories aimed at discrediting Baerbock as she bids to become Germany’s first Green chancellor.

READ ALSO:

False claims

Among the false stories circulating about Baerbock is the bizarre claim that she wants to ban household pets in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another fake story firmly denied by the party claimed that she defied rules on mask-wearing and social-distancing by embracing colleagues upon her nomination earlier this month.

Baerbock has also been presented as a “model student” of Hungarian billionaire George Soros – a hate figure for the European far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists – in a mocked-up social media graphic shared among others by a far-right MP.

More serious online attacks include a purported photo of Baerbock which in fact shows a similar-looking naked model.

The Greens’ campaign manager Michael Kellner said that the attempts to discredit Baerbock had “taken on a new dimension”, that “women are targeted more heavily by online attacks than men, and that is also true of our candidate”.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Other false claims about the party include reports of a proposed ban on barbecues, as well as plans to disarm the police and enforce the teaching of the Quran in schools.

While such reports are patently absurd, they are potentially damaging to Baerbock and her party as they bid to spring a surprise victory in September.

“She has a very real chance, but the coming weeks are going to be very important because Baerbock’s public image is still taking shape,” Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University told AFP.

In a bid to fight back against the flood of false information, the party has launched a new “online fire service” to report fake news stories.

READ ALSO: Greens become ‘most popular political party’ in Germany

Russian disinformation

Yet stemming the tide is no easy job, with many of those who peddle disinformation now using private messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram rather than public platforms such as Facebook.

The pandemic and ongoing restrictions on public life will also make it harder for the campaign to push through their own narratives at public events.

Miro Dittrich of Germany’s Amadeu-Antonio anti-racism foundation claims that lockdown has “played a role” in the spread of fake news.

“People are isolated from their social environment and are spending a lot more time online,” he said.

Another factor is Russia, which has made Germany a primary target of its efforts to spread disinformation in Europe.

According to the European anti-disinformation platform EUvsDisinfo, Germany has been the target of 700 Russian disinformation cases since 2015, compared to 300 aimed at France and 170 at Italy.

As an outspoken critic of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, Baerbock may well become a target of such attacks during the election campaign.

By Mathieu FOULKES

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