Americans in Vietnam vote early for next president

By Viet Anh   October 29, 2020 | 06:18 am PT
Americans in Vietnam vote early for next president
A voter places their ballot in a curbside ballot drop box to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 during the Maryland U.S. presidential primary election as other voters stand in a long line waiting to cast their votes in College Park, Maryland, U.S., June 2, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Jim Bourg.
To ensure their votes are counted in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Americans in Vietnam have gone to some trouble to do it early.

"I had registered to get my ballot via email in Nevada and voted on their secure website in early October," said Ethan Grant Blonder, who lives in Hanoi.

Blonder said he found the absentee ballot an easier way to vote and wished he could do it online even in the U.S.

In this election cycle, 32 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia allow voting by email, fax and online system. Nevada is one of 13 "battleground states" in this election.

Blonder said he had voted for over 60 positions for the primary election during summer and Nevada authorities had responded within a week or so saying his ballot had been received.

But, for the presidential election, "the only difficulty is that sometimes they won't confirm that your vote is received until after the election date, so if there's a problem, it's too late to resubmit the vote.

"Last time I checked they still haven't filed it for the general election though, and I read that it might not show until after because there are so many people voting absentee this year because of the virus," he said, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Benjamin Shears, another American expat who has lived in Vietnam for four years, said he voted on Thursday last week and did it by absentee ballot.

His state, West Virginia, allows him to fax or email a copy of his ballot to the State Secretary and also permits very early voting, Shears said, adding that he has always voted in every election using the same method, which was somewhat difficult, but "nothing so bad."

The difficulty, he explained, comes from having to request many different documents, which takes time as well as the need to print the completed documents and to send them back on time. This is mostly because the offices that receive the information are only open during certain hours and would not accept anything outside them.

Shears said he had to plan his time carefully to make sure there was someone in the office (in West Virginia) to receive his ballot.

"My state is also suffering from the virus which made the working office hours even shorter and with less staff. This made the process a bit longer. Luckily, I started the process to request an absentee ballot more than a month ago. If I had waited, I'm not sure I could have cast my ballot.

"In the end, I was able to fax my ballot directly to the office and was given instant confirmation of its arrival via an email," he said, refusing to disclose who he had voted for.

Chuck Searcy, co-chair of the NGO Agent Orange Working Group in Vietnam and a co-founder and currently vice president of Chapter 160 of Veterans for Peace, said he had voted by mail on October 16 at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

"I was surprised at how easy it was this time," he said. His ballot has been sent with all other ballots to the U.S. in a diplomatic pouch and will be counted on Election Day.

On its website, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) provides the needed guidance for U.S. citizens living outside the country to vote in absentia. They can send ballots back to the U.S. by mail, fax or email. American citizens in Vietnam can also submit their ballots at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi or the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

Gregory Dolezal, chairman of Democrat Abroad (DA) Vietnam, the official country committee of U.S. Democrats living in the country, said that once the ballot is received there are some differences based on state of residence, which will determine how to return it as some states allow it to be emailed or faxed, but most require it to be sent by mail.

For this election, DA has helped hundreds of voters with assistance and advice on how to vote from abroad, he said.

Dolezal also said the U.S. postal service may be overwhelmed now due to logistical constraints caused by the pandemic, so courier service was the only feasible method for those who were yet to send their ballots.

The representative of the Republican Overseas (RO) Vietnam refused to provide information on constituents of that part in the country.

More than 70 million Americans have cast ballots in the U.S. presidential election, more than half the total turnout of the 2016 election, with one week to go until Election Day, according to a count from the U.S. Elections Project announced Tuesday by the University of Florida.

The tally, which shows a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest voter turnout in percentage terms in more than a century, also highlights voters’ desire to reduce their risk of exposure to Covid-19.

The high level of early voting has led Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor who administers the U.S. Elections Project, to predict a record U.S. voter turnout of about 150 million, representing 65 percent of those eligible to vote, the highest rate since 1908.

Jason Adams, a HCMC resident, voted by email on Thursday. He had planned to print his ballot and take it to the U.S. Consulate’s office in the city, but later decided that voting by email is faster.

The U.S. Consulate General in HCMC said it has experienced an increase in the number of ballots dropped off at its Office of American Citizen Services for mailing in the 2020 elections, with approximately twice as many ballots mailed via the consulate in 2020 than in 2016.

American voters drop their ballots during a voter event at the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC on September 29, 2020. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC.

American voters drop their ballots during a voter event at the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC on September 29, 2020. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC.

Him or him?

"I voted for Joe Biden. He was not my preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, but of the two main options, he's by far the best," Blonder said, adding that he does not pin high hopes on the candidate.

"I don't really agree with him all that much on policy and even if he were more in line with my views, I doubt he could get too much done without a fully Democratic Congress, but he would at least make politics something I don't have to think about every waking moment, and that would be a great start."

Having been in Vietnam for a year, Hannah Smith said this will be the first year she will not vote because she does not like either of the candidates because "both are not representing what they need to be.

"I don’t like Trump because he is too strict on immigration and because of how badly he has handled Covid-19. I don’t like Biden because I don’t think he takes climate change or inequality in America seriously enough," she said.

Smith predicted a Trump victory. "I think Joe Biden is better than Trump, but he lacks the energy that Trump has," she said.

‘He’s not Trump’

Mark Ashwill, a U.S. international educator/education entrepreneur who has lived in Vietnam since 2005, said "the most compelling reason to vote for Joe Biden is that he's not Donald Trump. The contrast has never been starker."

Searcy said he voted for Biden because he is more competent, more experienced, and more stable than Donald Trump.

"I do not have a lot of confidence, either, that Joe Biden will implement the reforms that America needs to regain our position in the world, but at least Biden can remove the uncertainty and the instability that the U.S. has faced during Trump's tenure."

"Biden will not do anything that is bold or exciting, and that's okay, for now. Hopefully he will return us to a period of some calm and normality," he said.

A Trump supporter, Adams said that for the past four years the sitting president "has reduced regulations for businesses, lowered taxes on businesses and the people and helped normalize relations in multiple countries.

"He hasn't started any new wars; before the pandemic the U.S. had a booming economy under his administration, record low unemployment. He's been tough on China which most countries have been scared to do," he said.

On Trump’s handling of Covid-19, Adams said that as president, the response has been "quite limited with some measures like mask mandates, lockdowns, and mandatory vaccines. These policies are the responsibility of state governments. The federal government should just make sure that research for therapeutics for treatment and vaccines is being done safely, but as fast as possible, and then making sure such remedies are available as soon as they are ready and proven to be safe."

Also voting for Trump from California State, another U.S. citizen living in HCMC who did not want to be named said he supports the president because of what he has done for small businesses by cutting regulations that former President Obama had put into place and what he has done to sanction China.

The man said he hopes Trump, once elected, will continue "to get rid of bad policies that waste tax money and set term limits to prevent the Congress from making so much money from lobby groups."

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