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Use Electronic Voting From Overseas As 'Last Resort,' Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2004 – Some overseas servicemembers have another way to vote in the upcoming Nov. 2 elections, but they should use it as a last resort, a senior Defense Department official said here today.

The alternative electronic voting method would apply only to troops whose local voting laws allow it, Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, noted during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

Servicemembers stationed overseas who want to vote in stateside elections, Abell pointed out, normally should still employ the traditional absentee paper ballots sent by mail.

The electronic transmission service, Abell explained, calls for servicemembers to first scan their marked paper ballot onto a computer portable document format, known widely as a "pdf file." This file is attached to an e-mail message that's sent stateside to Pentagon contractors, who will then direct the pdf file to local voting officials for tallying.

Eligible service members, Abell noted, are asked to use the system only as "a court of last resort." The Defense Department, he said, would prefer that overseas servicemembers mail their absentee ballots in to local election officials. The second preference behind mailing paper ballots is to fax them directly to local officials.

But electronically submitted balloting remains an option for those who cannot mail in their paper ballots because they've been deployed or because their ballot is late catching up to them, Abell said.

Officials also said that if troops use either electronic fax method, they are also encouraged to mail in their ballots as a backup to the faxed version. Troops who elect to send their votes in electronically will have to sign a waiver acknowledging that the secrecy of their ballot cannot be guaranteed. That's why, Abell said, paper ballots remain "the most secure, the most traditional means of getting their vote in (and) getting it counted."

Should troops serving overseas not receive a traditional paper absentee ballot from their stateside voting jurisdiction, Abell said another voting option is using a blank federal write-in ballot.

Abell said the message for Armed Forces Voting Week, slated Sept. 3-11, is for servicemembers who haven't yet requested their absentee ballots or requested to vote for this election to do so. And Overseas Voting Week, set for Oct. 11-15, reminds servicemembers that mailing their ballots in that week, or earlier, should help ensure that their votes get counted, he added.

Servicemembers serving either stateside or overseas with questions about how and when they should vote should contact their local voting assistance officer.

Contact Author

Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Charles Abell

Related Sites:
Federal Voting Assistance Program
Senate Armed Services Committee

Related Articles:
Officials Committed to Helping Military Members Vote
DoD Pushes Absentee Ballot Reforms

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