05.13.09

SCHUMER RELEASES SURVEY SUGGESTING BALLOTS OF ONE IN FOUR OVERSEAS MILITARY VOTERS WENT UNCOUNTED IN '08 ELECTION

Senator Unveils Disturbing Data, Culled By Surveying State Election Offices, As Senate Hearing Examines Flaws In Overseas Balloting ProgramSchumer Urges Qualified New Director For Office That Oversees Military Voting ProcessSays Systemic Reforms Are Needed To Ensure Every Military Ballot Is Counted

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U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (DNY), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, released troubling new data Wednesday suggesting that during the 2008 presidential election, more than a quarter of the ballots requested by U.S. military personnel deployed overseas-and other eligible voters living abroad-went either uncollected or uncounted. Speaking at a Senate hearing on the matter, Schumer said he would seek to craft bipartisan legislation in the weeks ahead to comprehensively address problems affecting the overseas balloting process to prevent such disenfranchisement in the future.

 

"It is unacceptable that bureaucratic snafus could prevent our troops from exercising the very rights they are fighting to protect," Schumer said . "This data provides only a snapshot of the problem, but it is enough to show that the balloting process for service members is clearly in need of an overhaul. We have an obligation to make it easier, not harder, for our military to cast their ballots when they are away on activeduty."

                                                                         

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, Schumer said.

 

A chart containing the data cited by Schumer appears below. The Rules Committee, in conjunction with the Congressional Research Service, culled the data by surveying election offices in seven states with high numbers of military personnel: California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. According to March 2009 statistics provided by the Pentagon, the ranks of deployed troops from these seven states represent nearly half - or 43.5 percent - of all U.S. activeduty and reserve troops currently deployed overseas.

UOCAVA Voting in Selected States, 2008

 

State

 

Ballots mailed out

 

Ballots returned as undeliverable

 

Ballots returned, but rejected

 

Ballots cast in election

"Lost votes" [(Mailed Out) (Accounted Ballots)]

Percent "lost"

California

102,983

3,054

3,969

65,836

30,124

29.25 %

Florida

121,395

2,064

2,311

95,014

22,006

18.13 %

North Carolina

19,109

485

1,043 *

12,267 *

5,314

27.81 %

Pennsylvania

40,279

288

213

31,818

7,960

19.76 %

Texas

91,106

4,656

4,503

65,334

16,613

18.23 %

Washington

61,934

483

1,294

45,929

14,228

22.97 %

West Virginia **

4,194

81

171

1554

2,388

56.94 %

TOTAL (7 states)

441,000

11,111

13,504

317,752

98,633

22.37 %

 

*    These totals include regular UOCAVA ballots and federal writein absentee ballots (FWAB).

** The state has 55 counties, but the number of counties that reported data for each category ranged from 18 to 40.

 

This same data cited by Schumer will also inform an upcoming report by the Election Assistance Commission, which provides the federal government's official postmortem on well the election was conducted. That report is not expected for several months.

 

Schumer-speaking before several exsoldiers who testified about their failed attempts to vote in previous elections-said the high number of disenfranchised overseas voters illustrates fundamental flaws within the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). That is the program within the Defense Department that handles the election process for military personnel and other overseas voters.

 

At the hearing, Schumer urged Gail McGinn, the Pentagon's Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, to quickly select a qualified individual to take over as head of FVAP. Schumer also said a comprehensive approach would be needed to address problems within FVAP. Chief among those problems, he said, was a lack of synchronization in the timeline for distributing ballots to voters overseas. Schumer noted that it is a "chronic" occurrence for military voters to be sent a ballot without sufficient leadtime to complete it and send it back in time to be counted. According to some estimates, it can take up to 13 days for a ballot to even reach an overseas voter. In addition, a recent Pew study determined that 25 states do not afford overseas voters, including military personnel, with enough time to complete

 

Schumer also said that voting assistance officers may also need enhanced training to better facilitate the election process overseas. He also called for increased awareness about Federal WriteIn Ballots, which are a federally provided alternative ballot that can be used as a failsafe when a stateissued ballot does not arrive in time.



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