Pentagon seeks to ensure voting access for service members in midterm vote

The Pentagon is moving aggressively to ensure that military members deployed overseas can cast votes in the 2010 midterm elections.

The Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance program this week started its training program for voting assistance officers at military bases worldwide. Based on a Pentagon directive, a voting assistance officer needs to be at every unit level.
 

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Military and overseas voters now have to submit a federal post card application every year instead of every two or four years.

Every voting assistance officer has to hand deliver or email a federal post card application to every military member by January 15 and get the word out about the importance of sending the application card to election officials in 2010, said a Pentagon spokeswoman.

There are about 6 million uniformed and overseas citizens who vote absentee.  Embassies and consulates overseas also must have voting assistance officers on hand. 
 
For example, close to 100,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan by the November midterm election.  Over the next several months, U.S. troops in Iraq will decrease from about 110,000 to 50,000.
 
Only about six or seven out of every 10 absentee ballots cast by military members are successfully cast.  In the general population about nine out of every 10 absentee ballots are successfully cast, according to Bob Carey, Federal Voting Assistance Program director.
 
“Our goal is to bring the military and overseas citizen absentee voting success rate to that of the general public," Carey said in a statement Friday.
 
Deployed troops -- 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 said, according to the Pentagon’s news service.

The Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), earlier this year released a study showing that as many as 25 percent of troops stationed overseas went uncounted in the 2008 election.
 
President Barack Obama at the end of October signed into law legislation sponsored by Schumer to make it easier for deployed military members to cast their vote.  Schumer’s had scores of co-sponsors John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah).
 
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act allows military voters to receive registration forms and blank ballots electronically; ensures that states send out ballots a minimum of 45 days in advance of the election so military and overseas voters will receive them in time; improved awareness and use of a failsafe ballot that voters can use if their ballots are lost in the mail; prohibits states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the basis of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions; gives more resources to the Department of Defense voting assistance offices who provide voting information and support to service men and women and their families; established standards for record-keeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.
 
Separately, Schumer and Cornyn pushed to have all military installation voting assistance offices as official “voter registration agencies.”
 
The Pentagon recently agreed to that move.  The designation means military bases will offer the same kind of voter registration services provided at motor vehicle departments and state agencies across the country.