Official Outlines Voting Guidelines for Overseas Citizens
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2006 U.S. servicemembers and federal employees stationed overseas need to act quickly to request absentee ballots for this year's primary and general elections, a Defense Department official said here yesterday.
This year, U.S. citizens will elect 34 senators, the entire House of Representatives, 37 state governors, and hundreds of state and local officials. Primaries begin in March, and the general election is Nov. 7.
To participate in their home states' elections, servicemembers and overseas citizens need to complete a Federal Post Card Application requesting an absentee ballot, said Scott Wiedmann, deputy director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The application needs to be completed and returned as quickly as possible, to give the local election office time to mail the ballot to the citizen and then time for the ballot to be returned before the state's deadline, he said.
"For the Federal Post Card Application, we recommend they send it in as early as possible in the year," he said. "Anytime that they move during that year, they should send another form in so the local election official has their address and the ballot will get to them in a timely manner."
All U.S. servicemembers, federal employees and their families, and U.S. citizens living overseas are allowed to vote in their home states under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, Wiedmann said. This year's elections are especially important for servicemembers, because Congress controls many aspects of military life, such as housing, health care and retirement benefits, he said.
"It's important for them to exercise their right to vote and cast a vote for the individual they think will represent them best," he said.
Federal Post Card Applications are available from military voting assistance officers, who are part of every unit, and U.S. embassies and consulates, Wiedmann said. The forms can also be accessed on the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Web site, www.fvap.gov.
The Web site also offers instructions on completing the form. Servicemembers can receive extra help from their voting assistance officers, who have access to the voting assistance guidebook, Wiedmann said. This guidebook has specific instructions for each state, including deadlines for registration and how to fill out the application form, he said.
The Federal Post Card Application has been improved this year, Wiedmann said. It's sealed better, so personal information can't be seen by anyone handling it, and there is a space for citizens to include e-mail addresses so election officials can contact them quickly if there's a problem with their forms, he said.
Generally, servicemembers' legal state of residence is what appears on their leave and earnings statement, Wiedmann said. He explained servicemembers must vote in that state unless they move and consciously change state of residence. For example, servicemembers cannot arbitrarily choose to vote in the state they are stationed in or the one they just left unless they have established residence there. A military legal office can answer questions about state of residence.
Federal Post Card Applications can be submitted by fax in many states, Wiedmann said, and some states allow ballots to be faxed. A few states are even e-mailing ballots to citizens, who print them out and mail them back, he said.
There are many ways for absentee voters to participate in elections, and the most important thing for these voters to do is communicate with their local election office, Wiedmann said.
"When that local election official is aware that there's an individual out there, especially an individual serving forward deployed in the armed services, they will do whatever they can to get that ballot to the individual," he said.
Individuals who used the correct means to request a ballot but the ballot doesn't arrive on time can use a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote, Wiedmann said. Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots are available at all military installations and U.S. embassies and allow citizens to write in their choice of candidates, he explained. These ballots will be counted just like a regular ballot when they are received.
Voting participation is higher among military members than the general population. Wiedmann said he believes that is because they know the value of the democratic process.
"I believe that the members of the armed forces who are out there defending our nation do feel a deeper appreciation for their civic responsibility and their participation in the democratic process, because they're the ones out there defending our right to do so," he said.