Thursday, December 31, 2009

Servicemember Voting Laws Reflect Changes

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Dec. 31, 2009 - Laws have changed and servicemembers who want to vote need to be aware of these changes, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program said. Generally, military personnel who want to vote are a higher percentage than that in the general population. Still, there can be roadblocks to exercising the franchise.

Overseas-deployed servicemembers may find that "the absentee ballot doesn't get to them on time, so they can vote it and send it back to the election official so it can be counted," Bob Carey explained during an interview yesterday.

In the general population about nine out of every 10 absentee ballots are successfully cast, the director said. "Only about six or seven out of every 10 military ballots are successfully returned," he said.

The biggest problems, Carey said, involves the nature of overseas duty and delays in the military postal system.

Carey's organization is working to expedite the voting process for military members. On the postal side, officials are looking at ensuring that all military ballots take seven days or less in transit. Imagine an express-mail service for military voters, Carey said.

The power of the Internet also is being harnessed. Military voters can go to for almost one-stop shopping. A servicemember can go online and find the necessary voting forms and fill them out right there.

"Down the line we will also have an online ballot system where they can receive the ballot online, fill it out online and chose their candidates online," Carey said. "They will still have to print it out and sign it, but it would end the wait of getting the ballots."

Deployed servicemembers -- at combat outposts and aboard ships -- are the most affected by voting issues. Many military voters also are younger and aren't aware of the processes behind voting, Carey noted.

"We're trying to make it easy," he said, "so they don't have to know chapter and verse of election law in order to participate in the process."

One of the bigger changes in the process is that military voters must send in a federal postcard application – again available at -- as soon as possible.

"The law has changed and even if they have been getting their absentee ballot automatically they have to register each and every year," Carey pointed out.

Servicemembers also must submit a postcard application each time they move, each time they deploy and each time they redeploy.

"We're encouraging everyone by Jan. 15 to send in a new federal postcard application," Carey said. Local election officials, he said, are more than happy to deliver balloting materials, but they have to know where to send them.

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