THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Work undertaken by a lawyer based in Israel representing overseas American voters has led to the State of New York allowing Federal Post Card Applications (FPCA) to be submitted electronically, as efforts continue to ease the process of registering and voting for Americans living outside of the US.
There have been concerns raised that international mail disruption could prevent overseas Americans from submitting forms on time for the 2020 Congressional and Presidential elections. The disruption in international mail has largely been the result of international travel restrictions due to the coronavius pandemic. In a letter dated August 26, 2020, Marc Zell of Zell & Associates wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other key stakeholders in NY elections requesting the State "Cease & Desist" from continuing to follow an "Unlawful requirement preventing overseas voters from electronically submitting a Federal Post Card Application".
The FPCA is a form allowing overseas Americans to register to vote from abroad using an absentee ballot. Even if a voter has registered before, they need to register again to be eligible for an absentee ballot for this year's elections.
In his letter, Mr Zell explained that his clients, overseas voters based in Israel, recently "attempted to register and receive their absentee ballot by electronically sending" their FPCA. However, "the Applications filed with the Board of Elections for the City of New York ... were summarily denied and remained unprocessed", meaning the voter did not receive an absentee ballot. New York State has a requirement that although FPCAs can be received electronically, the filled out FPCA needs to be physically mailed back.
Outlining the problems with this approach, Mr Zell wrote that elderly voters overseas in Israel "generally do not leave their homes, even to visit the post office, for fear of contracting Corona Virus", and also pointed out that others "are under legal quarantine because of their age and prior medical conditions". Although Mr Zell's letter applies to Americans in Israel, Americans around the world have found similar issues with mail in voting, including the general disruption with international mailing times.
Concluding his letter, Mr Zell demanded that the State of New York "immediately" allows "for electronic submissions of registration/ballot applications in time" for his clients "and others similarly situated to submit their FPCA applications and obtain their absentee ballots before the November 3rd General Election".
In response, on September 4, the New York State Board of Elections sent a letter back to Mr Zell explaining that guidance would be issued to ensure that "If a military or overseas voter requests a federal ballot electronically (e.g. e-mail or fax) via a 'Federal Post Card Application,' and such voter is registered to vote and is otherwise eligible to receive a federal ballot, then the county board of elections shall issue a federal ballot to the voter".
However, the Board explained that while voters who are "not previously registered to vote" will be able to submit an FPCA electronically, when they receive their absentee ballot, they will receive a new FPCA form which will need to be signed and mailed back along with the absentee ballot in order for the ballot to be counted.
Mr Zell, who is Chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, was applauded by Republicans Overseas, who posted details of the news on their website saying "Congratulations to Marc for helping overseas Americans to register to vote!"
The full details of Mr Zell's letters can be found via the Republicans Overseas website, at republicansoverseas.com/marc-zell-ro-legal-counsel-convinces-new-york-to-ease-voter-registration-restrictions