Time to fix problems for military voters (Sen. Ben Nelson)

Yesterday, I joined my colleagues Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Saxby Chambliss to introduce the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which will ensure that all ballots cast by US troops deployed overseas are counted in upcoming elections. The MOVE Act sets minimum, uniform standards to ensure that members of the military and overseas voters have a process that works, allows them time to vote, and provides for contingencies if the regular absentee voting process fails.

Study after study has shown problems with the voting system for military and overseas voters as it stands.  A Rules Committee survey last May of seven key states showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election.  In a 2009 survey by the Overseas Vote Foundation, more than half of overseas and military respondents tried to vote but failed to do so because they either received a late ballot or never received a ballot at all. 

We owe it to our men and women in uniform to create a well-functioning system that allows them to exercise their right to vote.

Among other provisions, the MOVE Act requires that all states provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days prior to the election, so that they have adequate time to complete and return them. The bill would also provide in most cases for a 10-day grace period for ballots to be received after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked in time.

The legislation also requires states to provide ballots via the internet or over fax. Additionally, it beefs up the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the Department of Defense, which is the main source of election-related information and assistance for many members of the military.  The legislation, S. 1415, also addresses problems the military and overseas voters face in registering to vote from outside the U.S.  It would bar states from rejecting military ballots for lack of a “Notary” signature—a feat difficult to achieve in the bases of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s time to tackle the problems facing military and overseas voters.

Senator Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, has announced that the committee will meet next Wednesday to consider the act.  As members of the committee, Senator Chambliss and I will join Senator Schumer in seeking to insert the MOVE Act language as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization Act as soon as next week.