Washington Matters


Deployed Military Voters -- Ignored Again


Voter turnout could set a modern record this Election Day. Not so with our armed forces stationed overseas. They'll probably have only a 20% turnout via absentee ballot. It's not their fault. They're just as interested in this election and want to participate, but they face overwhelming bureaucratic hurdles that are shameful. Our men and women in the military deserve better.  

Absentee voting regulations vary from state to state, but typically it requires no less than three international mailings via snail mail to get the job done for soldiers overseas, assuming forms are handled and filled out correctly.

It's the same process relied on in World War II.

It can take 60 days, and there's plenty of room for screw-ups, including a soldier being restationed and not receiving the form, missing a deadline because the military was slow to move the mail, an improper postmark or postage, or not having the form filled out exactly right and not being notified about it -- or just having it lost or tossed in the wrong pile when a ballot arrives from Iraq or South Korea.

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The U.S. Election Assistance Commission says less than half of the absentee ballots requested by military stationed overseas were cast or counted in 2006. That'll probably be the case again, since little has been done to address the problems.

In close races in key states, active-duty military votes could make a difference. There are 25,000 deployed overseas from Florida, for instance, 9,000 in Pennsylvania, 8,000 in Michigan and 7,000 in Virgninia. 

State election commissions should be able to work with the Defense Department to fix problems. Electronic voting for the military when deployed is one way, and supported by the Military Voting Rights Project of the grass-roots National Defense Committee, a private pro-military group. It's a little controversial and raises red flags with some who warn of vote fraud. I can't imagine they couldn't come up with a secure system, though, for the military. After all, we're talking about the Defense Department. 

Some steps are being taken, including a small Pentagon pilot test allowing military electronic voting for deployed service personnel from one county in Florida. And several states have taken small steps, such as allowing deployed military to request absentee ballots by fax machine or email.

More than that can be done, though, to protect and enable the rights of those in uniform defending our freedoms abroad.

 




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