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Federal Program Assists Absentee Voters

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 1999 – More than 2.8 million military personnel and family members have the right to vote. The DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program provides them tools and help to exercise this right regardless of where they are stationed.

In 1996, 64 percent of all service members cast absentee ballots under provisions of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986. At the same time, only 49 percent of the U.S. civilian voter population voted.

Director Polly Brunelli said the DoD voting assistance program informs U.S. citizens worldwide of their right to vote and the avenues open to them. It provides information to voting assistance officers at each military installation and through its Web site at www.fvap.gov and newsletter, Voting Information News.

The Web site includes an online guide that lists absentee registration and voting procedures for all U.S. states and territories. It also offers training slides for military and civilian voting assistance officers.

Brunelli said the DoD program is always looking for ways to increase voter turnout. Some 44 states and territories, she said, make absentee voting easier than ever by allowing voters to register by faxed Federal Post Card Application, to request and receive a ballot by fax, and to return their ballot by fax.

Ballot faxing started in 1991 when thousands of service members were deployed for Desert Shield and Storm, Brunelli said. Electronic voting worked so well Congress made it permanent, she said.

Electronic mail and online voting are natural next steps, and Brunelli is helping develop a pilot project for the year 2000 presidential election. The plan will allow military personnel from South Carolina and six counties to vote by e-mail. The chosen six are Orange and Okaloosa counties, Fla.; Howard and Texas counties, Mo.; Dallas County, Texas; and Weber County, Utah.

An online system for absentee voting is in the early planning stage, Brunelli said.

The DoD voting program serves the following individuals:

  • Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard who, because of active duty, are absent from their legal voting residence.
  • Merchant Mariners.
  • Eligible family members of all the above who, because of their sponsor's active duty or service, are absent from their legal voting residence.
  • Members of the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service and Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who, by cause of active duty, are absent from their legal voting residence.
  • U.S. citizens, military or civilian, residing overseas.

For help and more information, see your unit or installation voting assistance officer, visit the assistance program's Web site, or contact program staff by calling 1-800-438-VOTE toll free or sending an e-mail to vote@fvap.gov.

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