Washington, DC -
07/15/2009 - Responding to new research showing that American military personnel and citizens overseas do not have enough time to vote in U.S. elections, senators are taking up historic legislation to fix this widespread problem. The Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that has led efforts to fix the election system for military and overseas voters, today applauds Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) and the Senate Rules Committee for considering the “Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act” (S.1415) in committee mark up. The bill, which amends the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), is expected to be offered as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill.
“Our election system has failed military and overseas voters for far too long,” said Doug Chapin, Pew’s director of Election Initiatives. “If enacted, the MOVE Act would be a critical step forward in solving many of the voting problems that have confronted Americans who, every day, defend our country and represent its ideals around the world.”
In January 2009, the Pew Center on the States issued the report, “No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America’s Overseas Military Voters,” the first-ever detailed public analysis of states’ voting systems for service members living abroad. The report found that 25 states and the District of Columbia provide insufficient time for overseas military personnel to vote and have their ballots count. Pew identified major obstacles in state election procedures and absentee ballot laws and recommended commonsense reforms to remove the impediments to voting. The following Pew recommendations are included in the MOVE Act:
• Expedite the voting process by requiring voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications and blank ballots (ballots that have not been voted) be made available electronically to all voters covered by UOCAVA;
• Ensure UOCAVA voters have adequate time to vote by requiring at least 55 days between when ballots are sent out and when they must be received by election offices to be counted;
• Eliminate requirements that ballots be notarized;
• Expand the opportunity for military and overseas voters to use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) by explicitly allowing the use of the FWAB in all federal elections (including special, primary and run-off) and using technology to allow voters to access better information electronically.
“We applaud Chairman Schumer and Ranking Member Robert Bennett (R-UT) for their leadership, and Senators Roland Burris (D-IL), Marie Cantwell (D-WA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and David Vitter (R-LA) for addressing the challenges facing military and overseas voters–many of whom have been unable to participate in our democracy for far too long,” added David Becker, Pew’s project director for Military and Overseas Voting.
Although UOCAVA is supposed to ensure that millions of Americans can exercise their right to vote in federal elections, several recent studies have shown that the election system routinely fails these voters. In addition to Pew’s “No Time to Vote” report, a recent survey of seven states by the Congressional Research Service indicates that, on average, more than one in four (27.95 percent) military and overseas ballots in the 2008 election were returned as undeliverable, lost or rejected.
Americans overwhelmingly want the system to work well for military and overseas voters. A bipartisan Tarrance Group/Lake Research Partners poll conducted for Pew in the fall of 2008 found 96 percent of Americans believe it is important that these individuals have the opportunity to vote in U.S. elections.
Pew has been working on a full complement of repairs to the election system for these voters. Since January, Pew has worked with the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) to draft a model law for states, which would extend these recommended federal protections to state elections. The ULC is meeting later this week to discuss its draft act.
In addition, Pew’s Voting Information Project (VIP), developed in partnership with Google, Inc. and state and local election officials, creates standardized electronic feeds of important voting information. Through the VIP, election officials can provide military and overseas voters online ballot creation tools such as FWAB, Write-In Absentee Ballots for state and local elections and other applications to assist them no matter where they live.
In 2008, Pew joined with the Overseas Vote Foundation to provide online tools to assist military and overseas voters; more than 4.75 million visitors used the services in 2008.
For more information, visit Pew’s Military and Overseas Voting Initiative.