Program Works to Ensure Absentee Voting Opportunities

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2008 - It's still not too late to register to cast an absentee ballot in the Nov. 4 general election in many states, a Defense Department official said today.

"We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote, and that the vote is counted," said Polli Brunelli, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Brunelli's office has spent the better part of the past two years working to ensure that the more than 4 million voters eligible to cast absentee ballots have them and understand the requirements to get their votes counted.

The FVPA administers the federal responsibilities of the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act for DoD. Those voters include about 1.3 million military servicemembers and their families living in the United States and abroad, and U.S. citizens living overseas.

With 26 days left before the general election, Brunelli said she expects much interest on the part of voters this year. Her job, she explained, is not so much to encourage those eligible to vote as it is to make sure that the opportunity is available to the voters.

To make that happen, Brunelli's office launched a Web site that has all the information voters need to find out how to cast an absentee ballot in their voting jurisdiction. Also on the site, voters can register and request ballots. The voter's respective state will then deliver the ballot electronically, and the voter can download it and send it in by whatever method the state allows.

Each state sets its own voting laws, so voters are encouraged to read and heed all requirements sent with the ballot. FVAP officials work with states to ensure they mail out the ballots to the voters, Brunelli said.

"We work with the states, eliminating barriers to absentee voting," she said.

Program officials also have worked with the U.S and military postal systems to mark and expedite all ballots mailed. The two agencies have teamed to expedite requested ballots heading overseas through U.S. gateway cities such as New York, Miami and San Francisco. The military postal service reported that from Sept. 8 to 28, 50,000 requested absentee ballots had gone through the gateway cities.

Brunelli said her office also has worked out an agreement with the mail systems to provide express mail for ballots returning from overseas military and State Department post offices from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4.

Electronic delivery of registration, ballot requests and even ballot casting is becoming more popular and makes it much easier for DoD's mobile population, Brunelli said. Many states now allow registration request forms, and some allow ballots to be submitted electronically.

Fifty-one states and territories allow registration by fax, and 23 allow registration by e-mail. Thirty-eight will fax blank ballots to voters, and 21 will e-mail blank ballots. Twenty-six allow a ballot cast by fax and 11 permit voting by e-mail.

"It's a wonderful thing for our voters, because it cuts down significantly on ballot transfer time," Brunelli said. Electronic submission can cut the traditional transit time for ballots by half, she noted.

Also, electronic submission is very portable. Voters who move or are on temporary duty can still access and cast their ballot from their personal computer.

Those who have requested ballots should receive them soon. Brunelli's office sent out an e-mail last week to 1.3 million active-duty servicemembers, letting them know that now is the time to expect ballots, she said.

Brunelli said she encourages anyone who does not receive a requested ballot to use the federal write-in absentee ballot available on the FVPA Web site,

Officials are encouraging those casting absentee ballots to do so next week.

"Mid-October -- the 12th through the 18th -- is a good time for these voters to mark their ballots and send them back to the states so that they can be counted," Brunelli said.

*Related Sites:*
Federal Voting Assistance Program  [ ]
Program Works to Ensure Absentee Voting Opportunities [ ]