Deadlines Approach for Absentee Voting
By Sarah J. Schmidt
Special to American Forces Press Service
SCHINNEN, Netherlands, Sept. 5, 2008 With the Democratic and Republican national conventions now behind us, the 2008 presidential campaign enters the home stretch as Americans look toward Election Day, Nov. 4.
Ron Holland (left) of the U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen, Netherlands, Voting Assistance Office, helps Mike Rhodes complete his voter registration card in time to meet absentee voter deadlines. U.S. Army photo by Sarah J. Schmidt
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Americans stationed overseas have just a few more weeks to complete voter registration in time to receive a ballot for the election. Federal Voter Assistance Program officials recommend that overseas personnel register no later than January of an election year, but voters may register up to 45 days before the election.
“That means overseas personnel have until mid-September to register, if they haven’t already,” Ron Holland, the voting assistance officer here, said. “But that’s cutting it really close.”
Holland advised against putting registration off until the deadline draws closer. “Otherwise, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll receive a ballot on time,” he warned.
Once registered, most states also require a voter to request a ballot for the presidential election as a separate transaction, though this usually is done at the same time as filing the initial voter registration form. Additional deadlines for requesting ballots also apply in most states.
California, for example, sets a deadline of Oct. 28 for absentee voters to request ballots for the Nov. 4 election, but the completed ballots must be received in the county registrar’s office by the close of business on Election Day to be counted.
If overseas voters wait until the deadline, then there’s little assurance their ballot will return in the mail by Election Day, Holland pointed out. “This is why it’s better to act sooner, rather than later,” he said.
Most absentee voters who already have registered should receive their absentee ballots in the mail soon, Holland said, as most states begin mailing ballots 30 to 45 days before an election.
Army Capt. Richard Clark, voting assistance officer at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, noted that Oct. 12 to 18 is Absentee Voter’s Week.
“This is the last ‘safe’ week to send in your absentee ballots in order for them to arrive on time,” he said. “When you receive that ballot, don’t just lay it aside on your desk and forget about it. The clock is ticking. Fill it out, seal it and get it back in the mail so it’ll arrive in your home state in time to be counted.”
Voters who haven’t received their ballot two weeks before the election should contact their installation voting assistance officer, Clark added.
Holland stressed that every vote counts.
“Don’t forget that absentee ballots played a significant role in past elections,” he said. “If you don’t vote, then you’re allowing others to make decisions without any input from you.”
The Federal Voting Assistance Program recently updated its Web site, www.fvap.gov, to provide online voter registration for servicemembers and their families, but all states are not yet participating in this online method. Voting assistance officers at all military installations can tell voters which states allow online registration. Citizens of participating states can register online and receive a ballot, but still must meet all registration deadlines and use regular mail to send in the completed ballot.
To use the free service, go to the FVAP site and look under the column on the right side of the page titled “Quick Links.” Scroll to the bottom of that column and click on "Use our new automated tool to register/request a ballot." You will then be prompted to provide your name and e-mail address.
Once you complete these fields, a user ID and password are sent to the prospective registrant’s e-mail account. The voter then logs in at the same screen and make a registration request. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.
FVAP officials said they are working with the Justice Department to encourage use of these online tools by all states. Voters from states not yet participating must complete the paper version of the registration application and send it via regular mail.
(Sarah J. Schmidt works in the U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen Public Affairs Office.)