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The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.

Costs to mail ballots may skyrocket for civilians, military living overseas

Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.

The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.

Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.

With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.

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Mail-in ballots await counting in Modesto, Calif., during the 2018 general election.

Suit challenges subjective system for rejecting Texas mail-in ballots

Election officials in Texas, the nation's second largest state and one that's rapidly becoming politically competitive, are being sued by voters and advocacy groups who say the way they reject mail-in ballots is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in San Antonio by two voters and groups who advocate for the disabled, older and disabled veterans, people in jail, and young voters on college campuses.

People in all of those groups tend to make extensive use of mail-in ballots, not only in Texas but across the country. And litigating to ease the rules for this type of voting is becoming an increasing popular tactic for those pushing for better access to the ballot box.

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Voting rights advocates and Gov. Ron DeSantis are continuing their court battle over Florida's plans for restoring felons' voting rights.

Florida's fight over felon voting keeps intensifying

The courtroom tussle over when felons may vote in Florida has taken two fresh turns.

Advocates for voting rights and civil rights last week asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new law setting conditions on when former convicts can return to the polls — at least until their lawsuit is settled.

In response, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the same judge to dismiss the advocates' litigation, arguing their complaints should be weighed in state (not federal) court.

There are several reasons why the dispute over restoring the franchise to Floridians after they're released from prison has become one of the most closely watched voting rights cases of the decade, even becoming an issue in the presidential campaign.

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"Some people just released under the First Step Act are learning that they never lost the right to vote in the first place under state law and could have been voting while incarcerated," writes Bowie.

First Step Act beneficiaries left wondering: Can I vote?

Bowie is a staff attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog. She leads the group's RestoreYourVote public education campaign.

Recently 3,100 Americans were released early from federal prisons because of policy changes from the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill enacted with lopsided bipartisan support last fall. Those individuals are returning to their homes across the country and embarking on the challenging path to restoring their place as members of their communities. Studies show that regaining the right to vote is a critical step in the re-entry process, one that can help formerly incarcerated individuals feel like full citizens. Those who were incarcerated understand best the impact that government policies have on our lives and why participating in democracy is so important.

State felony disenfranchisement laws can be extremely confusing. And because they vary so widely, they lead to the persistent misperception that most people with convictions can never vote again. In fact, while at least 23 million Americans have been convicted of felonies, only 5 million to 6 million are actually disenfranchised under law.

Americans returning from federal prison face an even more confusing landscape. On top of the already complicated patchwork of state laws, some states treat federal convictions differently than in-state convictions — both for determining whether a federal conviction means the loss of voting rights and for the steps that an individual will have to take to get rights restored.

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