SENATE PASSES BIPARTISAN BILL TO EASE VOTING PROCESS FOR MILITARY, OVERSEAS VOTERS
Legislation Would Place New Requirements on States To Mail Out Ballots To Troops In Time to Give them 45 Days to Return Their Ballots
Bill Also Requires Defense Department To Make Emergency Ballots Available Online So That Troops Can Print Them Out and Send Them Back
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced Thursday that the full Senate has given final approval to their bipartisan legislation to make it easier for U.S. troops to cast ballots from overseas. The measure—co-sponsored by Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Robert Bennett (R-UT), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and 54 other senators—is attached to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which cleared the Senate on a 68-29 vote.
“It is the least we can do for our troops to make sure their votes get counted when they are serving overseas,” said Schumer. “This bill will remove the barriers that too often conspire to disenfranchise our military men and women. Thanks to this quick passage by the Senate, it will take effect in time for next year’s federal elections.”
“It’s time we address the issues that have kept military and overseas absentee ballots from being counted,” said Chambliss. “Our military men and women serving overseas at very least deserve to participate in the electoral process.”
“Every day, our men and women in uniform put themselves in harm’s way for our freedoms. Those freedoms aren’t free. They must be renewed with every election. And we must ensure that our men and women in uniform can renew those freedoms with their votes. I firmly believe our bipartisan Military and Overseas Voting Enforcement Act will make a huge impact in empowering our military and overseas voters to have their votes counted, no matter where they find themselves on Election Day,” said Nelson.
The measure approved today is based on the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”). That bill was introduced after a Rules Committee survey last May showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military and overseas voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election.
The bill would fix several of the flaws responsible for such widespread disenfranchisement. Among other provisions, it requires that all states provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days prior to the election, so that they have adequate time to complete and return them. The bill would requires states to provide ballots electronically. Additionally, it beefs up the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the Department of Defense, which is the main source of election-related information and assistance for many members of the military.
The legislation would also bar states from rejecting military ballots for lack of a “Notary” signature—a feat difficult to achieve in the bases of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In May, the Senate Rules Committee released a study showing that as many as 25% of troops stationed overseas went uncounted in 2008. Schumer said the estimate was based on figures provided to the committee by election officials in seven of the states with the highest number of deployed troops. In 2008, military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states requested 441,000 ballots in order to vote from overseas locations, as allowed by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Of those, 98,633 were never received back by the election officials in the U.S. and so were declared “lost” ballots. Another 13,504 were received but rejected for various reasons including a missing signature or failure to notarize, as is required in some states. When combined, these two categories amount to 112,137 voters in those seven states—or 25.42% of the 441,000 who requested ballots—being disenfranchised, the study found.
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