Politics & Government

Report: States shortchange military voters overseas

WASHINGTON — Many states are giving military voters overseas too little time to cope with cumbersome mailing systems, according to a study that the Pew Center on the States released Tuesday.

Other states use faxed or e-mailed ballots, which deprive military voters of privacy, according to Pew, a non-profit public interest group.

Pentagon officials said the U.S. Postal Service and the Military Postal Service Agency expedite voting materials and ballots, but a Pew researcher said that many local election offices don't know that the faster service is available.

Under the most widely used delivery system, the U.S. Postal Service delivers voting materials to three gateway cities: Miami, New York or San Francisco. The Military Postal Service Agency delivers them to installations and individuals around the world.

The process can take 25 days — plus 25 more to deliver registrations and ballots to a voting precinct back home. Add the 25 days that it takes at the beginning to request a ballot, and the total's 75 days plus preparation and processing time.

"While these soldiers are serving America, America's voting system is not serving them," said David Becker, the Project Director of Make Voting Work, a division of the Pew Center on the States.

In 2006, only a third of ballots requested by military voters actually were cast and counted, Pew said, citing the Federal Election Assistance Commission, an agency that promotes voting participation.

The group's report, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters," found that the voting rules in 25 states and the District of Columbia made it nearly impossible for service members stationed abroad to cast ballots in the 2008 election.

In cases where overseas military voters from those states managed to cast ballots, "They did so in spite of state laws, not because of them," said Kil Huh, who's on the Pew research team.

The absentee voting systems in place in these states, with long periods of processing and shipping, as well as stringent deadlines, don't allow enough time for service members stationed abroad to request, receive, and complete their ballots before the states' deadlines.

Several states that do give overseas military voters adequate time do so by accepting faxed or e-mailed ballots. That, too, worries Pew, because the privacy and security of faxes and e-mails can be compromised.

The Defense Department's Federal Voting Assistance Program, which helps military voters abroad, provides a secure server for the transmission of voting data. Some military voters, however, may not have Internet access, Pew 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," said Lt. Col. Les' Melnyk, a Defense Department spokesman.

Pew concluded that that the most useful changes to states' current systems were to:

_ Expand use of Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots, which allow all voters to vote when their absentee ballots arrive too late to be completed by the deadline.

_ Allow election materials to be transmitted electronically.

_ Add 45 days to the election process for the shipping of materials.

_ Eliminate the notary requirement for military voters.

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