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Report Indicates Success for 2004 Absentee Voting Efforts

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2005 – Federal Voting Assistance Program efforts for the 2004 national election were successful, the program's director said in a Pentagon Channel interview here Dec. 6.

Effective voting assistance officer training and voter education and information programs contributed to record participation by groups covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, Polli Brunelli said. The law protects federal absentee voting rights for uniformed servicemembers and for U.S. citizens not affiliated with the federal government and federal employees living overseas.

A post-election survey that serves as the basis for a congresionally mandated report survey revealed that participation was the same - 79 percent -- among overseas and stateside military voters. The figure for overseas military voters includes the 6 percent who tried to vote but were not successful, she said.

Between the 2000 and 2004 national elections, program officials significantly reduced the number of people who attempted to vote but were unsuccesful, Brunelli said.

Servicemembers surpassed overall civilian voter participation, Brunelli noted. Census figures show 64 percent of the eligible U.S. civilian population voted, she said.

Federal Voting Assistance Program teams conducted 164 workshops in 2004, more than twice the number held in 2000, Brunelli said. The teams trained unit-level voting assistance officers on tasks such as helping voters register in the right jurisdiction and how forms should be filled out.

"This is a collateral duty for our voting assistance officers so we want to make sure that they're trained and equipped to carry our their jobs," Brunelli said.

The survey showed servicemembers were highly satisfied with their voting assistance officers, and that the Internet was another primary source for information, she said. The FVAP Web site includes complete instructions on how to participate in the voting process, as well as links to state voting Web sites.

But educating assistance officers and voters is only half the equation, Brunelli said. "We also had incredible cooperation from the states and counties in sending out balloting matarials to our voters," she added, noting that some voters could cast their ballots by fax or e-mail. "Not every state (accepts electronic submissions)," she said. "It depends on what legislation is passed. State legislation has been very effective in removing barriers to absentee voting." She said 49 states allow some form of electronic transmission. Only about 24 states, however, will accept electronic submission of a voted ballot to a local election office.

Despite the success enjoyed in 2004, Brunelli said the voting assistance program can always do better.

"What we're trying to do is simplify the process," she said. "I think if our voters have a successful voting experience the first time, then they're inclined to be engaged for the next time and it gets easier as you go along."

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