Official: Access to absentee ballots 'never better' despite IG report claims
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2012
WASHINGTON — The acting chief of the Federal Voting Assistance Program said Wednesday that troops’ access to absentee ballots “has never been better” despite reports of growing problems for servicemembers trying to cast a ballot this fall.
Earlier this week, a Defense Department Inspector General report said inspectors could not locate more than half of the 229 voting assistance offices, despite the program’s claim that those locations exist and are actively helping troops.
Investigators also noted that, because of base consolidations and moves, many units are stationed miles away from the closest voting offices, limiting their effectiveness. Army garrisons in Korea, Japan, Italy and Germany were highlighted as particularly problematic.
Pamela Mitchell, who took over the voting program in May, downplayed the report, saying investigators used outdated information to reach out to the offices. Her staff has been in contact with all 229 offices, she said, and will continue to monitor each of them until Election Day.
“We are absolutely committed … to make sure voting assistance remains the best it has ever been,” she told reporters. “I spent 25 years in the Army, and I voted absentee. I can tell you that I only wish that when I was in uniform I had access to the tools and resources available today.”
Providing absentee ballots to overseas voters — particularly those serving in war zones — has been troublesome for the Defense Department for years.
Researchers from the Overseas Vote Foundation found that nearly one-third of military and civilian voters living outside the country could not successfully cast a ballot in 2010 because of mismailed paperwork, too-tight deadlines and other common frustrations. In 2008, it was almost half of those surveyed.
Last month, officials from the Military Voter Protection Project said absentee ballot requests among military voters for this cycle lag far behind the 2008 election in several key swing states, including Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.
Mitchell said the figures are on par with the 2004 election — a more comparable election, since it featured an incumbent president running for a second-term — and aren’t of concern to FVAP officials.
Voting assistance officers are available for every unit, she added, and program staffers have launched social media offerings to help spread information to troops as well.
More information on requesting an absentee ballot is available at www.fvap.gov.