The Department of Defense today announced Absentee Voting Week, Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, to help service members and civilians serving outside their home states make their votes count.
With all U.S. House of Representatives and some U.S. Senate seats at stake during the mid-term elections Nov. 2, the department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program has launched a new set of tools to connect voters with their state election processes.
Bob Carey, FVAP director, said the program’s online electronic voting support program and federal write-in absentee ballot are designed to ensure voters get the appropriate ballot and can submit it before deadline.
FVAP’s voting support program, launched this year, offers precinct-specific online ballots and submission instructions for the 19 states so far participating: Virginia, Utah, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Kansas, Mississippi, Washington, New Mexico, Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, Idaho, Arkansas, Colorado and Tennessee.
Through the online program, located at www.FVAP.gov, “We can actually give you a direct link to your state’s ballot delivery system,” Carey said. “Or if your state doesn’t happen to have that, then we have an online ballot that has all your federal candidates. You can select online and print out the ballot online. It will give you a pre-addressed envelope and complete instructions about how to get the ballot back home.”
Some states allow ballots to be returned by fax or online, Carey said, but the military postal service will express-mail any ballots military members or their spouses submit from overseas.
“So Bexar County, Texas, has already gotten back two ballots from Korea that were sent back by the express mail,” he said. “E-mailed out on Friday, and the voter got it, put it right in the mail, it got express-mailed back, was back in San Antonio’s hands on that Tuesday. Four-day turnaround.”
FVAP also relies on unit commanders and voting assistance officers worldwide to help troops and civilians get their ballots back on time.
“We have over 9,500 voting assistance officers in the military,” Carey said. “They’re doing a good job; they got the military registered at a higher rate than the general population. What we’re finding, though, is that while 91 percent of the absentee ballots in the general population are returned, only 63 percent of the military ballots were returned [during the last election cycle].”
In the past, ballots were sent by mail, which slowed the voting process and meant some absentee ballots weren’t received before voting deadlines, Carey said.
“Now they’re being sent by e-mail or being posted online. We’ve taken a 30-day transmission process and reduced it to 30 milliseconds,” he said. “Hopefully that’s going to be one of the biggest things we can get out there – let people know they don’t have to wait.”
For troops deployed to remote locations where computers and printers aren’t generally available, Carey said, units may need to make special arrangements.
“What we’re urging all the units to do during Absentee Voting Week [is] to maybe set up one day where they have a computer available that has a printer available,” he said, “so anyone can come on in and at least get their ballot printed out if it’s being delivered by e-mail or online delivery.”
Carey said FVAP also is using social networking tools to reach potential voters.
“FVAP is on Facebook, and we have a tool, an invitation for people to send to all their friends to say, ‘Hey, here’s how you can get your ballot now.’ And if they go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program Facebook page, they can find out all that as well,” he said.
The program’s goal is to make the FVAP Web site the only tool that Defense Department absentee voters need, he said.
“We’re trying to make the FVAP Web site the single portal to be able to go to any state, any system, and it will be seamless and intuitive for the voter,” Carey said. “The experience of a California voter may be very different than the experience a New York voter has, because of the technology used. But hopefully, the experience in terms of the ease of voting is the same.”