Less than half of military votes overseas counted
WASHINGTON — Overseas military voters had less than half of their votes counted in last year’s congressional elections, according to data released by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Monday.
“One thing is clear: At every level of government, we need to do a better job,” said Donetta Davidson, chair of the commission. “We must make sure all eligible voters are getting their opportunities.”
The figures, released at the commission’s annual conference on ways to improve and troubleshoot the absentee voting process, showed that only about 992,000 of the nearly 6 million eligible overseas citizens requested ballots for the 2006 general election.
That included about 119,000 military personnel stationed outside the United States. Of those, only about 57,000 — less than 48 percent — had their votes successfully cast or counted.
EAC officials said that’s roughly the same percentage that were counted for expatriates and domestic military filing absentee ballots. The major failures were on the ballot delivery side, with about 72 percent of those who failed to vote never receiving any of their requested election materials.
Still, the commission also saw positive news for overseas military.
In a survey of absentee voters from four states — South Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Montana — researchers found that overseas military were nearly three times as likely to attempt to vote as their overseas civilian counterparts. And nearly 90 percent of those who made it through the system were pleased how the voting process worked.
Q2 Data & Research senior partner Bruce Cain, who led the work on that survey, said overseas voters also are anxious to embrace new technology to make the absentee voting system easier to follow and more efficient.
Currently only eight states allow transmitting a final election ballot, but others offer varying levels of e-mail assistance and fax submission offerings.
“The numbers of [electronic voting options] are still small, but the satisfaction level with them is very high,” he said.
And EAC officials said local election officials they surveyed said they’re anxious to offer more assistance to overseas voters, especially military serving in combat zones.
Still, often those goals are constrained by the small budgets and small staff of the offices involved. Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, said 1,778 local election offices nationwide serve less than 1,000 voters, and often face more difficulty quickly responding to overseas requests.