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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 9, 2009

SCHUMER, CHAMBLISS & NELSON ANNOUNCE BIPARTISAN BILL TO GUARANTEE MILITARY BALLOTS FROM OVERSEAS NEVER GO UNCOUNTED


Senate Meeting Set For Next Week To Give Committee Approval To Bill; After That, Senators Plan To Add Measure To Pentagon Bill About to Hit Senate Floor

Legislation Would Place New Requirements on States To Mail Out Ballots To Troops In Time to Give them 55 Days to Return Their Ballots

Bill Also Requires Defense Department To Make Emergency Ballots Available Online So Thhat Troops Can Print Them Out and Send Them Back

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, together with Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), announced Thursday that they have introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that all ballots cast by U.S. troops deployed overseas are counted in upcoming elections. Calling the issue an urgent priority, the Senators also announced that they plan to gain committee approval for the legislation at a meeting next Wednesday.  It could then be added as an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill due to hit the Senate floor Monday.
 
The bill, called the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”), comes after a Rules Committee survey last May of seven key states showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election. The bill introduced today 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 also provide in most cases for a 10-day grace period for ballots to be received after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked in time.
 
The legislation also requires states to provide ballots via the internet or over fax. 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, S. 1415, also addresses problems the military and overseas voters face in registering to vote from outside the U.S.  It would bar states from rejecting military ballots for lack of a “Notary” signature—a feat difficult to achieve in the bases of Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
“It’s unacceptable that those serving our nation in uniform receive their ballots so late or encounter other snafus that prevent their votes from being counted,” said Schumer. “It’s time to remove the barriers that have stood in their way. If we can deliver supplies and high-tech equipment to the front lines of combat, we can figure out how to get our troops a ballot so they can vote.  We need to get this bill in place for the 2010 federal elections.”
 
“Of the 992,000 military and overseas absentee ballots requested for the 2006 election, more than 660,000 never reached election officials,” said Chambliss, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is simply unacceptable. Our military men and women serving overseas to defend and promote our national values at very least deserve to participate in the electoral process.”
 
“We owe it to our men and women in uniform to create a well-functioning system that allows them to exercise their right to vote,” said Nelson.  “It’s time to tackle the problems facing military and overseas voters head-on.  This bill is based in large part on state legislative recommendations that the Department of Defense has been pushing for years.  The MOVE Act sets minimum, uniform standards to ensure that members of the military and overseas voters have a process that works, allows them time to vote, and provides for contingencies if the regular absentee voting process fails.”
 
At a May hearing, 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 theUniformed 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.
 
The impediments included: Difficulties in registering to vote from overseas; not receiving ballots early enough; and obstacles to returning the ballots in time to be counted.   According to testimony at the Rules Committee hearing, even ballots that arrive on time are sometimes rejected for minor, non-election related technicalities, such as not being on a certain kind of paper.
 
The bill would address these and other problems by:
 
·         Guaranteeing that military and overseas ballots will be counted if sent by Election Day;
·         Ensuring that states send out ballots a minimum of 45 days in advance of the election so military and overseas voters will receive them in time
·         Improving awareness and use of a failsafe ballot that voters can use if their ballots are lost in the mail;
·         Prohibiting states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the basis of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions
·         Giving more resources to the Department of Defense Voting Assistance Offices who provide voting information and support to service men and women and their families; 
·         Establishing standards for record-keeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and
·         Encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.
 
Schumer, as Rules Chairman, also announced Thursday that the Rules Committee will meet next Wednesday to consider the MOVE Act. After that, the senators will seek to insert the language as an amendment on the Defense Reauthorization Act as soon as next week.
 
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