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No Systemic Problems in Absentee Ballots, IG Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2001 – The DoD Inspector General found "no systemic problems" in the department's handling of overseas absentee ballots during the 2000 election.

"The Inspector General along with testimony given by the General Accounting Office to the House Armed Services Committee reiterated that their reviews uncovered neither systemic problems nor significant discrepancies of the DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program," said Charles S. Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy.

While there were areas for improvement, the IG did not find "that the program failed," he said.

Military members, their families and civilians assigned overseas have the same right to vote as American citizens here in the United States, Abell said during a Pentagon press conference June 22. "We in the Department of Defense must do all that we can to ensure this right is not diminished by virtue of their overseas, deployed or shipboard assignment."

It is DoD's responsibility through the Federal Voting Assistance Program to educate the military community in the voting process and enable them to exercise their rights to vote.

The DoD IG found that the voting assistance program was not consistent among the services. Abell said his office, working with the FVAP, would work to make the processes in the services consistent with DoD.

The IG recommended that the Federal Voting Assistance Program office continue to work with state election officials to resolve absentee voting problems. These include trying to standardize the various states' requirements, differing voter residency requirements, simplifying the overseas ballot process and working with states to test and use new technological solutions for the absentee balloting process.

Also the IG recommended that DoD revise its guidance to require the services to name Unit Voting Assistance Officers and to specify the maximum number of people any one officer should support.

The 2000 election actually saw a record high overseas participation rate of 72 percent.

A total of 74 percent of all members of the uniformed services voted -- 72 percent overseas, 76 percent stateside. Overall, only 51 percent of all eligible Americans voted.

The FVAP provided assistance to 258,000 active duty military personnel, 118,000 family members and 87,000 DoD civilian employees stationed overseas, Abell said.

Abell said the IG also found no systemic problems in the Military Postal System. All mail is supposed to have postmarks that have the date and originating address.

News reports following the vote in November said some military absentee ballots were disqualified because they did not have postmarks. Abell said the DoD IG did not address this allegation.

The GAO is taking a broader look at the problems of absentee voting in the 2000 election. Their report is due out in September.

Abell said he welcomes recommendations for improvement made by the DoD IG. "We're going to follow through on al the recommendations and continue to seek ways to facilitate the process for members of the military community," he said.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Overseas Absentee Voting, June 22, 2001
Inspector General Report: Overseas Absentee Ballot Handling in DoD, June 22, 2001


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