Commission urges easier voting for Americans overseas
WASHINGTON — Americans overseas could see simplified paperwork to receive absentee ballots and more time to send in those votes under a package of recommendations unveiled Monday by a commission studying election reforms.
The organization, led by former President Jimmy Carter, highlighted servicemembers on duty outside the United States as one of the target groups for improvements, noting that their right to vote is especially important because they “put their lives on the line for their country.”
The recommendations include ensuring all absentee ballots are mailed out 45 days in advance of an election, requiring that defense officials supply postcard applications to all troops overseas in every federal election year, and asking the department to give more consideration to using military aircraft to deliver and return absentee ballots.
“We want to have the maximum opportunity for everyone in America to qualify to vote,” Carter said after meeting with congressional leaders in Washington to discuss the report.
Earlier this year, the National Defense Committee’s Military Voting Rights Project said nearly one in four votes cast by servicemembers overseas in the 2004 president election were not counted. That report blamed the problem mostly on ballots arriving too late or ballots being cast aside because of errors.
While calling the U.S. voting process “still the best in the world,” commission co-chair James Baker, former secretary of state, said many of those balloting glitches can and must be fixed for citizens to keep their faith in the system.
The commission noted that only one state, Alaska, has a centralized processing station for the overseas ballots, even though states were authorized to do so through the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
A single office could more easily and accurately sort the overseas votes, instead of sending them to counties where local officials may not know how to handle them and be more likely to reject them, the commissioners said.
The report also criticized most states for requiring overseas voters to register as an absentee voter and request an absentee ballot in two separate steps.
The 87-point report also advocates a national voting picture ID card, funded by the federal government, and a rotating regional primary system, which would allow states with traditionally late primaries to vote earlier in the cycle.
The commission is an independent research group organized through American University in Washington.