Army sending assistance officers to help with absentee voting
July 1, 2004
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — No matter how far troops are from home, they still can have a say in the upcoming election.
While some may think the forms will be endless and the procedure too confusing to vote by absentee ballot, unit voting assistance officers can make sure that isn’t the case.
Army Maj. Perry Phillips oversees all VAOs for his unit, the 377th Theater Support Command. He said his unit, which has several thousand troops, tries to field about one VAO for every 50 soldiers.
“Lately we’ve been getting our units assigned with VAOs and getting them trained up,” said Phillips, whose primary job is as judge advocate.
Once the VAOs are trained, they can help troops with anything related to voting, whether it’s registering for the first time or finding the rules for the individual’s home state.
“The VAOs all have a guidebook that has all the instructions state by state,” Phillips said. “All the states are the same to some degree, but they do have some differences.”
Each VAO also is stocked with absentee ballot request forms. Phillips said once the form is filled out, it goes to the person’s county registrar. The ballot then is mailed directly to the individual.
Phillips said at no time are statistics kept on who votes, registers, or what party the voter is affiliated with. And he said officials don’t judge the success of the program by the number of voters.
“The goal is to give every soldier the opportunity to cast a ballot in the election … if they want to do it,” Phillips said.
While Phillips said his VAOs won’t really hit the voter campaign trail hard until the beginning of July, Army Lt. Col. Glenda Guillory, who is in charge of the program for the 375th Transportation Group, is halfway home.
“So far, 50 percent of the unit is aware of the form and where to get the information,” said Guillory of the more than 4,000 unit members. She said while she can’t track how many vote, she can make sure the VAOs are getting the word out. She has each VAO submit a monthly report detailing what they have done to make soldiers aware of the procedure.
Army Sgt. Jennifer D. Payne assists Guillory in tracking the program. She said troops need to know they can make a difference.
“We want everyone to know that they have a voice that needs to be heard,” she said. “Just because they’re here doesn’t mean their vote doesn’t count.”
Payne said the 375th also spreads voting information through newsletters and e-mails.
Phillips said potential voters can find out who their units’ voting representative is by visiting the local post office. He said lists will be published in each facility to help direct voters.
For those who don’t receive an absentee ballot in time, Phillips said the VAOs will be equipped with the next form voters will have to fill out, the federal write-in absentee ballot.
Guillory said another way for servicemembers to gather voting information is through the Web site www.fvap.org.
The deadlines for absentee balloting in the Middle East are Aug. 15 for requests and Oct. 11 for mailing them back.