- U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (DNY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, announced Thursday that the full Senate has unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to make it easier for U.S. troops to cast ballots from overseas. The measure-cosponsored by Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Robert Bennett (RUT), Senator Saxby Chambliss (RGA), Senator Ben Nelson (DNE) and 54 other senators-was attached to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which could receive a final vote as soon as later today.
"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. It is on pace to become law in time for next year's federal elections."
The passage of the bill, called the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act ("MOVE Act"), comes after a Rules Committee survey last May showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military voters went uncounted in last year's presidential election. The MOVE Act 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 electionrelated 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.
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.
The impediments include: 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, nonelection related technicalities, such as not being on a certain kind of paper.
The bill address
es 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 recordkeeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and
Encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.
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