This article was contributed by Ellen Lebelle and Carmelan Polce
If you are an overseas voter from Pennsylvania, you may have received the above email message from election officials. Why? Because overseas voters like us who tried to download our ballots from the state's voter website were greeted with an error message when we tried to log in.
The site is called PA Voter Services. Forty-five days before an election, officials send an email with a link to the site to those voters who chose the “email/online” option on their ballot requests. The link is supposed to direct the voter to a login page. Once logged in, the voter is sent directly to her voter record which has the ballot download for the current election.
This year, we received our notification email on schedule. However, when we and other voters followed the link to download our ballots, we got an error message. We could not access the site from a non-US IP address.
After contacting the site's webmaster and the board of elections, the search was on for a solution.
One way to work around an online voting issue like this one is to contact the local board of elections for a PDF ballot. Election officials will send a ballot with instructions, a voter certification form, and a PDF to print an envelope with the address of the local election board.
Another workaround was to log on to the PA Voter Services site directly, not using the link in the notification email. Putting “https://” before PAVoterServices.pa.gov would open the site from abroad. One of us tried this and was able to download her ballot. However, on September 30, the Pennsylvania Department of State enhanced its security system so that this web address (and this solution) no longer functions.
Help is Available
Now Pennsylvania has recognized the issue and is taking steps to to help overseas voters. On October 1, the state sent some clear, simple advice for voters having difficulty downloading the ballot. (See the citation at the beginning of this article.)
We hope that Pennsylvania overseas voters who stumble over inaccessible URLs on the way to their electronic ballot don’t go away discouraged. Every vote counts and we encourage Pennsylvania voters to persevere.