Military Service Members and Other Overseas Voters Face Hurdles to Casting Ballots
The Pew Charitable Trusts and Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) announced new Web-based voter services to help the more than six million Americans — members of the military and civilians living overseas — take the steps necessary to vote in upcoming elections. A recent government report revealed that between two-thirds and one-half of the ballots mailed to overseas voters were not returned in time to be counted for the 2006 election. New research from electionline.org, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts, finds that states have adopted inconsistent processes and requirements for overseas voters, making it difficult for them to participate in the electoral process.
"Those who serve their country deserve a voice in its future. Unfortunately, when military personnel and other citizens overseas try to vote, there is a good chance that their votes won't get counted," said Michael Caudell-Feagan, project director of Make Voting Work, an initiative of Pew's Center on the States. "Americans living abroad deserve a system that allows each voter to confidently register and submit his/her ballot."
This partnership with OVF is part of a larger effort by Make Voting Work. This multi-million dollar, multi-year project seeks to help modernize elections by advancing policies, practices and technologies that make voting convenient for eligible voters without compromising accuracy.
OVF's new Web site and integrated voter services applications, available at www.overseasvotefoundation.org, offer a user-friendly online system to automate the complex process facing military and civilian overseas voters attempting to register to vote and request absentee ballots. In addition, OVF provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date listing of local U.S. election office contact information available today through its Election Official Directory.
"This initiative sets a new standard in the arena of overseas and military voter services. It is no longer acceptable to offer a hodge-podge of cryptic, text-only instructions to military personnel and other citizens overseas. Our years of experience and post-election voter surveys have enabled us to design a site that caters to overseas and military voters' unique needs. The choice of three live, dynamic applications instantly engages the voter on the new OVF starting page — no politics, no fund-drives, and no distraction," said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO of Overseas Vote Foundation.
The Web site prompts the voter for information necessary to register to vote in his/her home state in accordance with each state's unique regulations. Error-checks occur during the process to ensure that the voter does not forget any required information. The site then generates an official form in PDF format and provides the voter with the correct county election office address for mailing. The program eliminates the need to individually research and navigate unique state regulations and mailing instructions by doing away with the necessity of culling through pages of instructions.
Along with the new site, OVF is announcing a State-Hosted Systems licensing program which enables states to license the new OVF software for their own customized use. Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio are the first states to adopt the OVF-hosted system software for their own election Web sites, giving voters from those states, including those serving in the military and living overseas, access to online registration and ballot request services and information about voting requirements.
"Men and women of the United States Military and their families stationed overseas already give up many things in order to serve our country — the sacred right to vote should not be one of them," said Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman. "Working with OVF and Pew will ensure that members of our military have easier access to registering to vote and casting their ballots in upcoming elections."
"As my state's chief election official, I am dedicated to ensuring that all eligible citizens have an opportunity to cast their ballots, and I am gratified that Ohio's military and other overseas voters will now have access to this tool to assist them in making their voices heard on the questions facing America in 2008 and beyond," said Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
According to electionline.org's analysis, overseas and uniformed services voters must navigate complicated state and local regulations that often delay receipt and processing of both their registration forms and absentee ballots. Outmoded systems employed by election offices and sluggish domestic and international mail services also hamper overseas voters trying to cast their ballots in an effective and timely manner. With this year's compressed political calendar, these challenges will be exacerbated. While technological innovations around the country, including fax and email voting, have become more widespread, they are still not available to many overseas citizens. The new OVF site and services provide a much needed resource for Americans living abroad.
For a description of each state's registration and absentee ballot requirements see the attached table.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires states to allow absent uniformed service members and overseas citizens to participate in absentee voting processes and vote absentee in general, primary, runoff and special elections to federal office. It also allows the use of a federal write-in absentee ballot (FWAB) in general elections for uniformed service and overseas voters who do not receive their absentee ballot in time to cast and return it. The law applies to spouses and dependents of uniformed service members. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates there are about six million eligible UOCAVA voters.
In the 2006 general election, almost 27 percent of all UOCAVA ballots came from domestic military voters, followed by almost 20 percent from overseas civilians and almost 17 percent from overseas military voters. About 5 percent were write-in (FWAB) ballots. The remaining one-third was uncategorized.