Thousands of U.S. voters living overseas have encountered difficulties requesting absentee ballots because of state restrictions on internet traffic as part of efforts to secure their election systems, according to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Federal law requires states to provide eligible U.S. voters based in foreign countries with a chance to get an absentee ballot. But some of these voters are having problems accessing official election websites to get information and, in some cases, download ballots, the Inquirer reported. The snags are occurring because of the steps taken by states to restrict traffic from foreign countries or entities to prevent potential interference with the election process, including the vote count. The Inquirer identified five states where voters were unable to load websites this week: Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Department of State, said her office first learned of the download problems experienced by overseas voters were on Sept. 25. Three days later, she said, the federal agency that helps overseas voters ― including military families ― cast ballots informed the office the problem was more widespread than previously believed.
Murren said her office added a help desk for overseas voters to contact directly if they were having issues. Since Monday, the office has sent out ballots to 530 overseas voters, she said. Around 4,000 overseas and military voters have already registered for ballots for the state’s elections, the Inquirer reported.
Murren said the state’s current security measures were not in place in 2016.
“While many organizations routinely block internet traffic from certain foreign countries as part of their cybersecurity posture, we are in a unique position because we need to balance the need for strong defenses with the sacred right of every citizen to cast a ballot,” she said in a statement. “Our defenses will continue to evolve as we seek the optimum balance of security and accessibility.”