By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2006 – The Defense Department is focusing efforts to ensure servicemembers stationed overseas and in the United States know their options for voting in the 2006 congressional and local elections. Sept. 3-9 is Armed Forces Voters Week. Officials caution that this is the last safe week to submit a Federal Post Card Application, or request voter registration forms and absentee ballots that meet most state deadlines.
The Defense Department is responsible for ensuring the right to vote for military members and their families, and also for U.S. citizens living overseas. It accomplishes this through the Federal Voting Assistance Program, said Michael L. Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Under the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the department uses three general programs: an outreach program to state and local election officials, an outreach to the voters, and a program to build capacity and improve mechanisms to get information to voters and enable them to vote, he said.
In the last several years, DoD has had a special challenge of reaching deployed servicemembers on the battlefield, whose particular circumstances make it hard for them to participate in the by-mail absentee voting process, Dominguez said. DoD officials have been working on this problem for several years, he said, noting that servicemembers and U.S. citizens living overseas now have an ever-expanding array of electronic voting options available.
DoD has launched a new Web site outlining electronic voting options for residents of each state. The Integrated Voting Alternative Site, which was launched Sept. 1, includes information from all 55 states and territories on the various electronic ballot requests 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 can be found on the Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site, and will be updated to reflect changes to state laws, he said.
"What we wanted to do was to use our Web site to communicate, as we had done for several years, out to the citizens covered by the act, all the electronic alternatives offered to them by their home state," Wiedmann said. "So they would be aware of all this, if they're on the move or in a remote location. We wanted to let them know that mail is not the only option from every state."
Most states allow at least part of the voting process by fax, and states are slowly embracing the use of e-mail for ballot requests and delivery, said Polli Brunelli, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. Currently, 50 voting jurisdictions allow the use of fax for the registration process; 34 states allow the faxing of blank ballots to the voter; and six to 10 states are interested in using web technologies for the voting process, she said.
DoD has developed two web-based tools that states can use in the voting process, Wiedmann said. Both involve an online, automated version of the Federal Post Card Application, which is the form used for voter registration and request of absentee ballots. Both are designed for individuals who are already registered to vote in their home states. The first tool would allow registered voters covered under the overseas act to log into a secure Web site, fill out automated Federal Post Card Applications, and e-mail them to their local election officials, Wiedmann said. The second tool would allow the registered voters to upload the completed applications to a secure server, where the local election officials can log on and download the forms and then possibly upload blank ballots to the same site for the voters to access, he said.
Both of these tools would only be open to military members and their families and DoD civilian employees and contractors stationed overseas, Wiedmann said. Security of this site would be ensured because individuals in these categories already have unique identifiers from DoD that could be used for verification, he said.
In addition to electronic voting options, DoD continues to work with the U.S. Postal Service and the military postal system to ensure ballots are delivered on time to military members and U.S. citizens living overseas, Brunelli said. Brunelli said she has been working with state and local election officials, encouraging them to send ballots out early, so overseas voters have plenty of time to complete and return them to be counted.