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Spc. Joe Brooks held his voter registration application in his hand in Yongsan Garrison’s sweltering Trent Gym recently, promising he would fill it out after he confirmed his home information.

Brooks said he didn’t vote in the last presidential election, attributing it to laziness. This year, however, Brooks — who described himself as a Democrat voting Republican this time — is charged up.

“I’m really excited because a lot of people have different views,” said the 23-year-old personnel administrator.

Brooks is one of thousands of 8th Army soldiers in South Korea going through the service’s Personnel Asset Inventory, a physical head count of every soldier in every unit worldwide. This year, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte incorporated voter registration programs into the asset inventory — virtually guaranteeing that every soldier in South Korea will be contacted by a voting assistance officer.

With the Nov. 2 presidential election nearing, the race is on to get Pacific-based troops registered to vote.

Voting assistance officers say the services are making a concerted effort to reach every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine — as well as civilian workers and family members — to avoid a repeat of four years ago. In the 2000 general election, an estimated 29 percent of military personnel who wanted to vote did not get absentee ballots or received them too late.

Steve Stacy, the U.S. Army Japan voting assistance officer, said, “We’re not supposed to talk about Florida.”

But it’s impossible to not talk about Florida. The state was pivotal in 2000 and changed the way military voting officers overseas do business.

The VAO job is an extra duty, but there’s a much greater emphasis on the program, Stacy said, namely because the Defense Department reviewed each services’ voting processes after the 2000 election and found shortcomings “with respect to people just weren’t getting the word or they didn’t understand that they could vote even though they were overseas working for the government.”

Army and Air Force voting assistance officers in Japan, South Korea and Guam are mandated to contact every active-duty member in their units about voting. They’re not allowed to be partisan in their approach, nor can they require a servicemember to vote.

“We’re supposed to ask: ‘Have you registered to vote? Do you know how? Do you need any assistance?’” said Maj. Darren Rhoton, a voting assistance officer at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

The 50 voting officers for USARJ spread throughout Japan and Okinawa are required to hand a federal post card application to every soldier; it’s a postage-paid document that gets one registered to vote and on the list to receive an absentee ballot.

Individuals can print out the same application on the Internet at www.fvap. gov.

In South Korea, each soldier is likely to be approached at least twice, said Master Sgt. Marylynne Hayes, a voting assistance officer with the 8th Personnel Command.

“The reason, we like to think, is because the close outcome of the last election,” said Col. Richard A. Rhodes, head of the 8th Army office. “It was decided by Florida, which was probably decided by absentee ballots. Soldiers realize that and know their votes actually mean something.”

This year, Rhodes said, the command will have distributed more than 50,000 federal postcard voter registrations, which had an Aug. 15 deadline. The command also reaches out to civilian workers and family members and will be a source for absentee ballot information as well.

The command is airing at least four commercials weekly on American Forces Network television and radio stations, featuring LaPorte and 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell urging soldiers to vote.

The Navy’s goal was to reach every servicemember and civilian affiliated with the service by Aug. 13, said Lt. Eudora Franklin, voting assistance officer for Commander, Naval Forces Japan headquarters.

Capt. Travis Butts, the Marine installation voting assistance officer for bases in Japan, said Wednesday that interest in absentee voting this summer has been high.

“I’ve only been here for two weeks and already I can tell you voting is a pretty high priority for everyone right now,” he said.

Butts said the process begins when a Marine reports to a new unit.

“We’re required to contact every eligible voter and most are informed about who the voting assistance officer is and how to get an application for an absentee ballot when they check in,” he said.

Updates on voting requirements also routinely are sent via e-mail and posted on bulletin boards, Butts added.

Servicemembers in the Pacific say it’s hard to miss the message about registering to vote, whether it’s cast from voting officers, base fliers, mass briefings or command radio and television promotions.

“They got me set up. I got the card and mailed it in,” said 1st Lt. Michael Gerstner of the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Turaeza Hose and Jade Domingo, staff sergeants with 35th Services Squadron at Misawa, said they both have had “face-to-face interaction” with their voting officers.

Four years ago, while stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, they didn’t even know they had a voting officer, Hose said. Domingo said she didn’t vote then, but plans to this year “because I’m older.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Bob Prickett said his voting officer works in his office in Yokosuka base security, and had provided voting materials to other people in the office. But Prickett already had registered to vote this spring when, he said, much to his delight, some sorority women signed him up outside the base’s main gym.

Prickett said he’d noted more attention paid to getting sailors registered to vote this year than had happened in the last presidential election. His theory: “It’s a Republican administration” pushing military voters, which they expect to vote heavily Republican, he said.

Franklin allowed that in the Navy, “this has been a program that no one really gave much attention to” until this year. “I’m justspeculating that it is because of the issues that came out of the previous presidential election and probably the fact that many of the sailors and Marines felt left out because they did not know how to vote,” she said.

Franklin said that as far as she knows, the Navy isn’t requiring its voting officers to track the number of people they’ve contacted about voting.

The service hasn’t reached all sailors: Seaman recruit Brandon Bromley, living on a berthing barge three weeks after arriving on base before assignment to the USS Kitty Hawk, said he had not been contacted. He said he definitely wanted to vote and planned to vote but did not know how to vote from overseas.

Pacific Air Forces headquarters requires a weekly head count from its bases, said Col. David A. Tom, chief of PACAF Force Management and Development. Numbers are forwarded to the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and eventually make their way to the desk of the Air Force chief of staff. In Japan, Okinawa and Guam, more than 15,200 servicemembers — out of approximately 16,700 servicemembers — already have been contacted by a voting officer, Tom said.

Air Force officials in South Korea say they also are embarking on an aggressive “100 percent contact” effort.

A big push will be made during the week of Sept. 3-11, which the Defense Department has designated Armed Forces Voters Week. At Osan Air Base, South Korea, announcements and voting help is expected to be offered at daily unit roll calls, while at Misawa, a “fun run” and art and essay contest other voting-themed events are planned. with a voting theme are planned.

Joseph Giordono, Jeremy Kirk, Vince Little, Nancy Montgomery and Mark Rankin contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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