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Local Elections Just As Important As Federal Campaign

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 1996 – With the spotlight on the 1996 federal campaign, many DoD voters often forget local elections.

These elections include campaigns for mayors, state senators, assemblymen, parish superintendents, county sheriffs, judges, coroners and clerks. Other issues range from local beautification campaigns to multimillion-dollar highway construction.

DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program officials are not only emphasizing the importance of the federal campaign. They are also encouraging voters to play their parts in state, county, city and district campaigns.

"I think state and local elections have just as much impact on the military as the national elections," said Phyllis Taylor, program director.

She said local officials make daily decisions on education, local taxes and property taxes.

"Many military families own property and intend to return to those locations where they are now voting absentee," she said. "Voting is the only process where they're able to voice themselves and have impact on their communities."

Voting on those local issues isn't easy. Because they don't see the day-to-day activities of their hometowns, voters must constantly research the issues concerning candidates and the communities they serve.

Unit voting assistance officers can offer some help, but, Taylor said, they're not responsible for keeping up on candidates and issues. "Their responsibility is getting voters registered and to tell individuals where to get the information," she said. Voters may write to state political parties and contact the League of Women Voters for information. Local newspapers often provide voters balanced coverage of candidates, and family members back home often give absentees an "inside" look at how the election affects their homes.

In 1988, Federal Voting Assistance Program officials created a new information channel. They established the Voting Information Center, a toll-free telephone hotline (800) 438-8683 at the Pentagon providing election information and assistance to service members and DoD employees. Originally, the service provided congressional and gubernatorial candidates a channel to leave recorded messages on election issues.

Yet, Taylor said, it also allows service members access to each state's secretary of state to get local election information.

Callers may not get recorded information, but Taylor said voters could leave their requests with center personnel for forwarding to each state.

Taylor said voters can obtain the information they need any time, but it won't do much good if the voter doesn't register and vote. "The rules are different for each state," she said. "That is why members need to get with voting officers and apply for their ballots."

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Taylor said, some states allowed military voters to fax voting applications from the Persian Gulf. Since then, 39 states and territories changed their voting laws to allow faxed absentee applications.

Election boards mail voters absentee ballots 30 to 45 days before the general election. Eighteen states and territories can fax ballots to absentee voters.

Once received, the voter must promptly vote and return the ballot so that it arrives before Election Day. Only six areas --Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- allow voting via fax. Indiana, Maine, South Carolina and Washington will accept completed ballots on an emergency basis.

Taylor said voting is not a legal obligation, but a civic responsibility. "I don't look at it like I have to convince people they have to vote," she said. "We try to point out the close elections that occur and the impact that they make. I don't think there is anything more motivating than to know you have that direct impact when you cast that ballot."

For more information about casting your ballot, contact your unit voting assistance officer or the Federal Voting Assistance Program hotline.

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