22 October 2009

Pew Applauds Congress for Including Military and Overseas Voting Solutions in Final Defense Authorization Bill

/PRNewswire/ -- Today, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act which includes provisions that will resolve several key voting problems for American military service members and citizens overseas. The bill encompasses the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which is sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), co-sponsored by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) and supported by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives. It will expedite the transmission of absentee ballots to military personnel and civilians abroad to provide more time for them to vote in U.S. elections and return their ballots in time to be counted. In the last federal election, it is estimated that as many as one in four ballots requested by these voters was not counted.

"The election system has failed our service members and citizens abroad for decades. The MOVE Act marks significant progress toward making it easier for those who defend and represent democratic ideals around the world to participate in our democracy here at home," said Doug Chapin, director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that has advocated for improvements to the election system. "We applaud Senators Schumer and John Cornyn (R-TX) for their leadership, along with Representatives Robert Brady (D-PA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) for championing these critical steps forward for military and overseas voters."

In January 2009, the Pew Center on the States issued the report, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters," the first-ever detailed public analysis of states' voting systems for service members living abroad. The report found that 25 states and the District of Columbia do not provide adequate time for overseas service members to vote and have their ballots counted.

In accordance with Pew's recommendations, the provisions would ensure adequate time to vote by:

-- requiring ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters at least
45 days before an election;
-- expediting the voting process by requiring voter registration
applications, absentee ballot applications and blank ballots to be
made available electronically to them;
-- eliminating the notarization of military and overseas ballots in the
remaining states that currently require it; and
-- expanding the opportunity for Americans abroad to use the Federal
Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) in all federal elections and using
technology to allow voters to access election information

"The MOVE Act is a significant step in the right direction by Congress," said David Becker, project director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States. "To finish the job, we need to extend these reforms to state elections and modernize the means by which we register and provide information to voters. The changes will not be helpful if ballots are simply sent faster to outdated addresses of those who have been deployed elsewhere. Voter registration updates should be automated to ensure that the records for highly mobile populations, such as military personnel, are accurate."

The Pew Center on the States is working on a full complement of election system reforms for military personnel and civilians abroad. Since January, Pew has supported efforts by the Uniform Law Commission to draft a model law for states, which would extend recommended federal protections to state elections.

In addition, Pew's Voting Information Project (VIP), developed in partnership with Google, Inc. and state and local election officials, makes important voting information available electronically. Using VIP, for example, military and overseas voters could generate customized ballot listings to assist them with casting federal, state or local write-in absentee ballots.

Pew also aims to improve the nation's outdated voter registration system by examining options for building a system that is more efficient and accurate, while reducing costs and administrative burdens. Pew continues to gather data, analyze research and work with election officials to diagnose performance issues in the current voter registration system and propose fact-based, practical solutions to guide the modernization process.

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