07/24/2009 - Last night, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act, including a landmark amendment that would resolve widespread voting problems for American military personnel and citizens overseas. In response to research showing that these voters do not have enough time to vote in U.S. elections, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) sponsored the "Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act" (S.1415). A conference on the Senate and House bills is expected following the August district work period.
"This amendment is a victory for military personnel and citizens abroad," said Doug Chapin, director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that has advocated for improvements to the election system for military and overseas voters. "We applaud Senator Schumer and Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) for their leadership, as well as the bipartisan group of Senate co-sponsors, for taking critical steps to fix a broken election system for Americans who defend our country and represent its ideals around the world."
In accordance with Pew’s recommendations, the legislation would ensure adequate time to vote by:
- requiring ballots to be sent to Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters at least 45 days before an election;
- expediting the voting process by requiring voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications and blank ballots to be made available electronically to UOCAVA voters;
- eliminating the notarization of UOCAVA ballots in the remaining states that currently require it;
- expanding the opportunity for Americans abroad to use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) in all federal elections; and
- requiring the use of technology to allow voters to access election information electronically.
In January, the Pew Center on the States issued a first-ever public analysis of states’ voting systems for military personnel living abroad. The report, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America’s Overseas Military Voters," found that 25 states and the District of Columbia do not provide adequate time for overseas service members to vote and have their ballots counted.
"Upon enactment, the amendment will represent a critical step toward expediting the transmission of ballots to military and overseas voters," said David Becker, project director for the Pew Center on the States. "However, more needs to be done. States should extend these reforms to elections here at home. Voter registration systems need to be updated so that ballots reach eligible voters when they move and election officials must use updated technology to provide the information military and overseas citizens need to navigate our election process and complete their absentee ballots."
Americans expect no less. A bipartisan Tarrance Group/Lake Research Partners poll conducted for Pew in the fall of 2008 found that 96 percent of Americans believe it is important that military and overseas voters have the opportunity to vote in U.S. elections.
The Pew Center on the States is working to advance a full array of election system reforms for these voters. Since January, Pew has worked with the Uniform Law Commission to draft a model law for states, which would extend recommended federal protections to state elections. 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.
In addition, Pew’s Voting Information Project (VIP), developed in partnership with Google, Inc. and state and local election officials, makes important voting information available electronically. Through the VIP, election officials enable military and overseas voters to generate ballots such as the FWAB, Write-In Absentee Ballots for state and local elections and other applications online.
For more information on Pew’s Military and Overseas Voting Initiative and for a copy of the "No Time to Vote" report, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org
.The Pew Center on the States (PCS) is a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states. By researching emerging topics, PCS highlights innovative policy approaches to complex problems for states. When the facts are clear, PCS advocates for nonpartisan, pragmatic solutions. Election Initiatives seek to foster an election system that achieves the highest standards of accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security.