Overseas military will have to register again to get ballots this year
WASHINGTON — Military members serving overseas will have to resubmit their voter registration this year if they hope to cast a ballot in the November midterm elections.
Veterans, military dependents and other U.S. civilians living overseas will have to as well. Changes in federal law mandate that voters must request a new absentee ballot each year in order to participate in state and federal elections, instead of the previous practice of requiring new applications only every few years.
“The message is for military voters to send in that (federal postcard application) as soon as possible, because they won’t be able to vote without it,” said Bob Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. “You need to submit a new postcard every year, and every time you change duty stations, and every time you move.”
States can opt to extend that application period further out, but aren’t obligated to do so, Carey said. The federal law guarantees that any voters who resubmit their paperwork every year will be provided ballots. Because of questions over whether states will change or challenge deadlines, Carey said the FVAP is pushing for all overseas voters to update their paperwork.
The changes came as part of the recently passed Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act, which also requires military bases to establish more voting assistance facilities and local election officials to mail out absentee ballots at least 45 days before an election.
But Carey said even with those changes military voters in Iraq, Afghanistan or other overseas locations won’t be able to receive a ballot unless they send in their current address information to their local election offices early this year.
On Thursday the FVAP held a midterm election kickoff event to highlight the need for military units and individual troops to be thinking about the primary and general elections right away. Twenty-five states have primary elections scheduled before July 1 this year, including a March 3 primary in Texas and a Feb. 2 one in Illinois.
More than half of overseas voters who tried to get an absentee ballot for the 2008 presidential election didn’t receive one in time for November’s election, according to statistics from the Overseas Vote Foundation. Election officials at Thursday's event said a major reason for that was outdated and inaccurate addresses for military voters.
“We will do everything we can to get these ballots out, but help us help you,” said Rokey Suleman, executive director of the Washington, D.C. board of elections. “The more information we have on you the better.”
Carey said the FVAP has already sent out thousands of the postcard applications to units heading into Iraq and Afghanistan on scheduled rotations, and is working with U.S. Central Command officials on ways to clarify and simplify the process.
In addition, the FVAP hopes to have a new slate of online registration and voting tools – including an online ballot completion form for each state – in place by the November general election.