January 29, 2014

SCHUMER HOLDS SENATE RULES COMMITTEE HEARING TO HEAR TESTIMONY ON STRENGTHENING MILITARY AND OVERSEAS VOTING

Bipartisan
legislation
improves voter registration
and voting opportunities for service members, requires voter assistance as a
routine part of a service members’ annual training and provides important
safeguards to the right to vote for military and overseas voters

Schumer:
We must do more to make sure that our troops serving overseas receive their
ballots in a timely manner and that those ballots get counted on Election Day

 

WASHINGTON, DC-- U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Chairman of the Senate  Committee on Rules and Administration, held a hearing today on the SENTRI Act (S.1728) to hear testimony from the Department of Defense (DOD) and state election officials. The hearing also featured remarks by U.S. Senator John Cornyn, the co-author of the bill with Schumer.

“Four years after we passed the MOVE Act, it is time to update and remedy known problems. It is simply unacceptable that those who fight to defend our freedom often  ace the greatest obstacles in exercising their right to vote,” Schumer said. “We cannot forget the plight of these voters.”   

Schumer and Cornyn introduced the SENTRI Act on November 19, 2013. The bill  currently has bipartisan support from nine other cosponsors including Senators Roy  Blunt, Sherrod Brown, Thad Cochran, Ted Cruz, Angus King, Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Mark Warner, and Roger Wicker.  

“In this era of advanced technology, we must do more to make sure that our troops serving overseas receive their ballots in a timely manner and that those ballots get counted on Election Day,” Schumer said. “The SENTRI Act does that by correcting problems with the absentee balloting process for overseas voters.” 

The panel of witnesses will include Matt Boehmer, Director of the DOD Federal Voting Assistance Program; Kevin Kennedy, Director and General Counsel for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board; and Donald Palmer, Secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections.

The SENTRI Act has four key components. First, it improves voter registration and voting opportunities for service members through an online system and by requiring voter assistance as a routine part of service members’ annual training. Second, it  ensures requests for absentee ballots remain valid for a full, two-year federal election cycle. Third, it strengthens protections of voting rights of military and overseas voters by requiring states to submit a pre-election report to the Department of Justice and DOD on the status of blank absentee ballot transmissions to military and overseas voters. Finally, the SENTRI Act requires a biennial report from the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to coincide with the normal federal election cycle. The biennial report is also subject to independent GAO review assessing
the effectiveness of the DOD’s voting assistance programs.  

“Good work has been done in the last four years to make voter registration and voting easier for military and overseas voters,” Schumer said. “I firmly believe the SENTRI Act will further that progress. With the 2014 elections 10 months away, passing this bill will help to end the disenfranchisement of our troops and their families.”  

A House companion bill (H.R. 3576) was introduced by Representative Kevin McCarthy on November 21, 2013. The bill was referred to the House Administration, House Armed Services, and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

In 1986 Congress enacted the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”). The act requires that States and Territories allow active duty members of the United States uniformed services to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. In 2009 UOCAVA was strengthened when the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (“MOVE” Act) was passed. Among its provisions, the MOVE Act requires States to transmit ballots at least 45 days before federal elections and prohibits states from refusing to accept an otherwise valid voter registration or absentee ballot application due to notarization requirements.

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Mr. Matt Boehmer is the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. He served as the Acting Director of FVAP from January 14, 2013, until his selection as permanent Director in November 2013.  FVAP is a component of the Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA). In his capacity as the Director, Mr. Boehmer administers the Federal responsibilities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) for the Secretary of Defense, who is the Presidential designee.  The Act covers the voting rights of Uniformed Services personnel, their eligible family members and all U.S. citizens residing outside the United States.                                                                

Mr. Kevin Kennedy is Director and General Counsel for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, a position he has held since November 2007. Before assuming the top staff position for the Board, he was Executive Director, and before that Legal Counsel, for the Wisconsin State Elections Board. Mr. Kennedy has served as the Chief Election Official for Wisconsin since August, 1983. He was in private practice before joining the Elections Board in 1979, and prior to that served as an assistant district attorney in Washington County, Wisconsin. He is a member of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) and served as NASED President in 2006. He also served as co-chair of the National Task Force on Election Reform established by the Election Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training and educational  opportunities for state and local election officials.

Mr. Donald Palmer currently serves as Secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections, appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell in 2011.  He is the chief election official of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the head of the state agency charged with implementation and uniformity of state and federal election law.  Previous to his current position, he served as the Director of Elections with the Florida Department of State during the successful 2008 and 2010 election cycles.  Since 2009, he has served on Election Assistance Commission (EAC) advisory boards, including the Standards Board Executive Board and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) representing the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Prior to his entry into the election community, Mr. Palmer served in the U.S. Navy as an Intelligence Officer and a Judge Advocate General deployed overseas onboard the USS John F. Kennedy and with tours of duty in Italy, Florida and Washington D.C.