Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have introduced “bipartisan legislation to ensure that all ballots cast by U.S. troops deployed overseas are counted in upcoming elections,” per a press release. It’s called the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (S. 1415) or MOVE Act.
The bill, called the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”), comes after a Rules Committee survey last May of seven key states showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election.
At a May hearing, the Senate Rules Committee released a study showing that as many as 25% of troops stationed overseas went uncounted in 2008. Schumer said the estimate was based on figures provided to the committee by election officials in seven of the states with the highest number of deployed troops. In 2008, military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states requested 441,000 ballots in order to vote from overseas locations, as allowed by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Of those, 98,633 were never received back by the election officials in the U.S. and so were declared “lost” ballots. Another 13,504 were received but rejected for various reasons including a missing signature or failure to notarize, as is required in some states. When combined, these two categories amount to 112,137 voters in those seven states—or 25.42% of the 441,000 who requested ballots—being disenfranchised, the study found.
The impediments included: Difficulties in registering to vote from overseas; not receiving ballots early enough; and obstacles to returning the ballots in time to be counted. According to testimony at the Rules Committee hearing, even ballots that arrive on time are sometimes rejected for minor, non-election related technicalities, such as not being on a certain kind of paper.
The bill addresses these problems by:
- Guaranteeing that military and overseas ballots will be counted if sent by Election Day;
- Ensuring that states send out ballots a minimum of 45 days in advance of the election so military and overseas voters will receive them in time
- Improving awareness and use of a failsafe ballot that voters can use if their ballots are lost in the mail;
- Prohibiting states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the basis of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions
- Giving more resources to the Department of Defense Voting Assistance Offices who provide voting information and support to service men and women and their families;
- Establishing standards for record-keeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and
- Encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.
- provides in most cases for a 10-day grace period for ballots to be received after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked in time
- requires states to provide ballots via the internet or over fax
Update (7/15): The Senate Rules and Administration Committee has approved this measure by Voice Vote, Congressional Quarterly reports. Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he’ll attempt to add it onto the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1390) currently being debated by the Senate.
Update (7/23): This legislation has been added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1390) by Voice Vote.
Update (10/22): The 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), which includes this legislation, has been sent to President Obama.
(credit image – air force times)