One-third of all U.S. states do not provide enough time to vote for military personnel stationed overseas and as many as half of all states need to improve their absentee voting process to ensure that the votes of servicemen and women abroad will be counted, according to a report from the Pew Center on the States released today. The report, titled “No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters,” is the first-ever detailed public analysis of states' voting systems for military personnel stationed overseas.
Pew undertook this state-by-state research in response to widespread concerns about challenges facing military voters abroad. Only one-third of the estimated one million ballots distributed to military and overseas voters in 2006 were actually cast or counted, according to the federal Election Assistance Commission. Figures for the 2008 election are not yet available. An estimated six million military and overseas civilian voters have the right to cast absentee ballots in America's federal elections. No Time to Vote was developed by the Pew Center on the States' Make Voting Work initiative, which seeks to foster an election system that achieves the highest standards of accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security.
For each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, researchers calculated the amount of time it takes overseas military voters and election officials to complete each step of the absentee voting process. The researchers then determined if all of the steps could be completed in time for each state's election deadlines and assessed whether overseas military voters have enough time to vote.
The report found that:
- The District of Columbia and 16 states do not provide enough time to vote for military personnel stationed overseas. These states send out absentee ballots after the date necessary for military voters to meet all required deadlines. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
- Three states are “at risk” for not allowing military personnel overseas enough time to vote. These states provide just five or less additional days beyond the number necessary to complete the voting process. With such a limited cushion, minimal unanticipated delays at any stage of the process—due to mail delivery or the actions of election offices or voters—will result in voters from these states being less likely to return their completed ballots in time to be counted. These states are Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
- Six states provide enough time to vote only if military personnel overseas return their completed absentee ballots by fax or e-mail – a requirement that raises concerns about access to technology and the privacy and security of their votes. These states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii and Rhode Island.
“We cannot allow the men and women who defend our country to be denied the ability to exercise this basic democratic right,” said Doug Chapin, Director of Make Voting Work. “While individual states have adopted a wide range of improvements, the lack of consistency across their absentee voting processes presents one of the greatest challenges to military and overseas citizens attempting to navigate the system. Fortunately, there are a number of common sense fixes that can get us closer to ensuring that all U.S. citizens have the opportunity to successfully exercise their right to vote.”
Pew researchers studied whether four policy options would help the 25 states and District of Columbia that need to improve the voting process for military overseas voters:
- Expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, a back-up measure for military voters who do not receive their state ballots in time;
- Allowing election materials to be transmitted electronically;
- Ensuring a minimum of 45 days to allow ballots to travel between voters and election offices; and,
- Eliminating a requirement that military voters have their completed ballots notarized before returning them.
The analysis found that all four options can bring about improvements, although not every reform is right for every state. All states could ensure time to vote by adopting a fully electronic process for transmitting all election materials between voters and election offices. Important questions have been raised about the privacy and security of returning completed ballots by fax or e-mail – but many overseas military voters would benefit significantly if states simply sent out blank ballots electronically instead of by traditional mail. Every state could also ensure time to vote by expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, although this tool is only a back-up measure.
Additionally, Pew is working with the Uniform Law Commission to promote the use of a uniform law for all voters covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Pew's goal is to have such a law adopted by states in time for the 2012 federal election.
No Time to Vote is supplemented by individual fact sheets for the 26 jurisdictions that need to improve their voting process for overseas military voters. The fact sheets are available below in PDF format.
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