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Absentee Ballots: Troops' Tickets for Overseas Voting

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2002 – Participation in the nation's electoral process "is a mark of good citizenship, and I would say our military are certainly fine examples of good citizens," DoD's senior voting assistance officer said.

"We'd like to see service members exercise their right to vote to the fullest extent," said Polli Brunelli, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program in Arlington, Va. The FVAP facilitates absentee voting for U.S. military and other American citizens living overseas, she noted.

Service members, especially those stationed overseas, should contact their local voting assistance officer well before elections to obtain the required information and materials needed to register and vote, she said.

"Send those materials in promptly to your local election official -- that's the county where you're eligible to vote," Brunelli said.

The FVAP carries out the voting program on behalf of the secretary of defense, who is delegated by the president to administer the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, she noted. The law affects more than 6 million potential voters, according to the FVAP Web page at www.fvap.ncr.gov.

The program's aims are to inform and educate U.S. citizens worldwide of their right to vote; foster voting participation, and protect and enhance the integrity of the voting process at federal, state and local levels.

The fiscal 2002 National Defense Authorization Act contains several provisions addressing voting assistance programs, Brunelli noted. Some new provisions are:

  • Military service inspectors general will annually review the effectiveness of their service's voting assistance programs and issue a report to the DoD inspector general.

  • The services will ensure their voting programs dovetail with Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act provisions and DoD directives governing voting assistance programs.

  • Commanders will ensure voting assistance officers are appointed, properly trained and equipped to provide military members with information needed to register to vote and to cast absentee ballots.

  • Commanders' evaluation reports on voting assistance officers will include comments pertaining to their performance in carrying out their voting assistance responsibilities.

  • Beginning four months before general elections, the secretary of defense will survey all overseas locations and seagoing vessels and all U.S. port facilities that collect APO and FPO mail to determine if voting materials are awaiting shipment and to ensure the military postal service moves the materials expeditiously.

  • The absentee voter registration and ballot processes have been simplified.
Service members who want the particulars on how to register and vote should contact their voting officers, Brunelli said.

She noted that the fiscal 2002 defense authorization act permits the FVAP to conduct a demonstration project this year allowing service members to cast absentee votes electronically. A similar project during the 2000 presidential election validated the concept of Internet absentee voting, she said, but it involved fewer than 100 service members from 21 states and 11 countries.

The fiscal 2002 authorization act, she said, "strengthens voting assistance programs of the services and also helps ensure that our men and women in uniform are able to exercise their right to vote."

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