Federal Voting Assistance Program Kicks Into High Gear
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2006 The Federal Voting Assistance Program office is pulling out the stops to ensure all servicemembers and their families who wish to can vote.
Polli Brunelli, the program's chief, said the program has learned from experience and has put in place a system to make it relatively painless for servicemembers and their families to vote in 2006 mid-term elections.
And, she added, servicemembers and their families want to vote. They generally vote in greater percentage than the general population, Brunelli said. She also stressed that these votes count. Absentee ballots decided a number of elections in 2004. "Election officials count every absentee ballot," Brunelli said.
The program covers not only military personnel, but also DoD civilians and DoD contractors. It depends on dedicated officers and noncommissioned officers at unit level. Each unit has a voting assistance officer, and they are the primary points of contact for servicemembers casting absentee ballots.
A number of changes are being implemented in this election cycle. Some states will now send ballots to requesters via e-mail. Others will fax the ballots. Each state is responsible for voting by its citizens, so the laws and programs offered vary from state to state.
Other changes include a revised Federal Postcard Application form. "It's bigger and better and easier to read," Brunelli said. "We have several blocks on there for (voters) to put alternative addresses if they are on the move. There is also a place to put their e-mail address. This is very important, because local election officials want to be able to communicate to voters."
This is particularly helpful for reserve-component personnel called to active duty. For instance, a Minnesota National Guardsman may go through training in Mississippi before deploying. The Guardsman can put the alternative address on the request for the ballot.
Brunelli's office is working with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure expedited mail service for ballots. This started in 2004, and they had great success with it, she said.
Ballots will arrive to servicemembers in September or October. To be sure votes arrive on time, Brunelli is telling servicemembers to mail in their voted ballots the week of Oct. 8 to 14.
Brunelli said the biggest problem the program confronts is outdated addresses. Folks who have moved since the 2004 election need to submit an updated federal postcard application.
If all things work perfectly -- and they usually do -- servicemembers will receive their ballots from local election official and return them without a hitch. But problems can happen: the address is wrong; the mail can't get to an isolated area in a timely manner; and so on. In such cases, servicemembers can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.
"It doesn't matter what ballot you get ... vote it," Brunelli said. "If the state ballot arrives after (submitting a write-in ballot), they should vote that, too. Local election officials will sort that out at their end."