By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2006 – A new Web site being developed by the Defense Department will provide information on electronic voting options for servicemembers and other U.S. citizens living overseas. The Integrated Voting Alternative Site, which is scheduled to be accessible Sept. 1, will include information from all 55 states and territories on the various electronic ballot request and delivery alternatives available to U.S. citizens living overseas covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, said Scott Wiedmann, deputy director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The IVAS will be found on the Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site, and will be updated to reflect changes to state laws, he said.
The by-mail ballot system is still the preferred, and most used, voting method for troops and citizens overseas, Wiedmann said, but it isn't always available, so DoD developed electronic alternatives starting in 1990. "Servicemembers, just like any other American citizen, have the right to participate in the electoral process," he said.
Different states have different electronic voting options, but they almost all allow overseas citizens to use fax machines for at least part of the voting process, Wiedmann said. About 30 states offer blank ballot delivery by fax, and 24 states allow citizens to return ballots by fax, he said.
Ballots cannot be filled out or submitted online because of security concerns, Wiedmann said, but the IVAS will have an electronic Federal Post Card Application - the form citizens use to request an absentee ballot - that can be filled out and submitted to the state officials via a secure site. The state officials can then post a blank ballot to the same site, and the citizen can print it out and mail it back when completed, he said. "Where states are able to participate, either through their state laws or procedures, to use electronic capabilities, we encourage that," he said. "That helps to cut down part of the process."
State governments are responsible for the voting process, and DoD does not register any voters or send in ballots, Wiedmann said. The department simply acts as an intermediary, ensuring citizens covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act have a chance to vote, he said. "It's our job to carry out that act and do whatever we can to facilitate that process and that communication between the individual member and their local election official," he said.
It's important for servicemembers to participate in this year's election, Wiedmann said, because members of Congress make many decisions directly affecting the military. Decisions about military pay, housing, and base closure go through Congress, he noted. "In that regard, (servicemembers) should always be electing the people who they feel represent them best," he said.