Thousands of registered Pennsylvania voters who live outside the United States are being blocked from accessing absentee ballots on the state’s website in a move intended to beef up election security. Several other states, including New Mexico, Tennessee, Georgia, and Vermont, also appear to be blocking foreign access to their election sites. “This should be a red flashing light issue in the state of Pennsylvania right now. They need to solve it — today,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president and CEO of the nonprofit U.S. Vote Foundation. “Because they are actually suppressing votes if this is how it is right now.” Under UOCAVA, an acronym for the law enshrining their voting rights and procedures, military and overseas civilian voters are supposed to be able to request an absentee ballot and have it sent to them to fill out and return. In Pennsylvania, voters can request absentee ballots by mail or as a download link by email.
Late last month, those emails began going out, along with detailed step-by-step instructions. But when voters outside the United States went to log in, they were met with an error page: “The page you are looking for cannot be found. Error 3759.”
It’s not actually an error, or a temporary server problem or a wrong URL: It’s an intentional attempt to block foreign traffic. “You have very little information as a voter abroad about how you can go about fixing this,” said Jeffrey Cheng, 31, who has lived in Sweden for four years after having lived in Philadelphia for eight years.
Cheng had been able to figure out a work-around through a technical loophole that was later closed. He said the Department of State told him to use a VPN, which funnels internet traffic through remote networks, in this case to route his request through the United States.