Study: Overseas Military Personnel Face Time Challenges when Voting

Jan 6, 2009 3:14pm

ABC News’ Huma Khan Reports: A third of U.S. states are lagging behind in providing overseas military personnel enough time to vote in the elections, according to a study released today by the Pew Center on the States.

The report states that 25 states and the District of Columbia need to improve their absentee voting process to guarantee that votes from overseas military personnel are counted.

"We’re concerned about all voters and voters not having unnecessary barriers being placed in their path," said David Becker, project director for Pew’s Make Voting Work. "The voters who face the greatest challenge are overseas and military voters for several reasons: they have to navigate a patchwork of state laws and they have difficulty getting accurate information from election officials. They have the additional problem of relying on overseas and military mail to get information being delivered in hard copy."

The study found that 16 of these states –- including Texas, Georgia and Missouri — mail out absentee ballots so late that it is difficult for voters to meet deadlines.

Three states only provide five or less additional days for overseas military service personnel to complete the voting process.

Six states only provide additional time if voters return their completed absentee ballots by fax or e-mail, which the study says raises privacy and security concerns.

Pew researchers recommend expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, allowing election materials to be sent electronically, allow at least 45 days for the ballots to travel back and forth, and cut the requirements for notarization.

"According to our analysis, those who may have voted successfully last fall did so in the face of procedural hurdles and tight deadlines in half the states and Washington, D.C.," the report said. "These challenges ranged from blank ballots being mailed out too late to completed ballots being returned by fax or e-mail, which raises questions about the privacy and security of the votes."

In a survey conducted early last year, the Election Assistance Commission found that more than 82 percent of uniformed service members voted in the 2006 federal election. Half of Americans living overseas who did not vote said they faced problems with requesting registration and absentee ballots and a third of those who did not vote said they had difficulty returning ballots.

In response to the study, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les’ A. Melnyk said: "The Federal Voting Assistance Program has consistently worked with the states to increase access for all military and overseas voters to electronic voting alternatives to paper absentee ballots. We’ve been encouraged over the past eight years by the increasing number of states that have adopted procedures that allow for registration, delivery of blank ballot, or voting by fax, email, or secure online server. We encourage all states to allow more time for ballot transit, and look forward to continuing towards the goal of enabling all states to adopt electronic alternatives to paper ballots that they determine are appropriate for their needs."    

A Pew Center on the States survey in December also revealed voting disparities among racial groups at polling locations.

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