Monday, February 9, 2009

Snail Mail Hinders Overseas Voting

According to the Overseas Vote Foundation, roughly half of overseas and military absentee voters may not have gotten their ballots counted in the last election. The main problem was the delay in transmitting paper documents via traditional mail, as is required by Federal and state election procedures.

Efforts to help overseas voters cast ballots had little effect in 2008 election:

Although local election officials reported increased interest from overseas and military voters for the 2008 elections, 22 percent of those who requested ballots did not receive them, and another 40 percent received ballots too late to be sure they could be returned in time to be counted, a survey said.

Those are among the findings of a post-election survey of more than 24,000 overseas and military voters conducted by the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Overseas civilians and military personnel and their families are entitled to vote in U.S. elections under the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), but these voters often have been disenfranchised because of delays in receiving and casting absentee ballots by traditional mail for local and federal elections. A recurring theme in voter problems was the length of time it takes for paper documents to pass between voters and election officials by traditional mail.

I saw this problem first-hand when I worked as an Election Officer in the absentee voter precinct for Fairfax County, Virginia. Some ballots from troops overseas and sailors aboard ship came with enclosed notes asking To Whom It May Concern to please count their local ballots rather than the 'military ballots' they had also submitted - usually at their Commanding Officer's urging - as a fall-back just in case the local ballot didn't arrive by election day. The difference was that the military ballot listed only the Presidential candidates, while the local ballot also had the voter's Senate and House candidates as well as local candidates and referenda. I agreed that local ballots should take precedence, so I always counted them, even though it meant that many of my military absentees ended up voting twice for their Presidential choices. (I figured if anybody is entitled to a double vote, they are.)

There are risks to the electronic transmission of ballots, however, when the traditional snail mail system results in disenfranchising maybe half of all overseas and military voters, how much worse could a new system be?.

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