Report: Overseas voters still struggle to have voices heard
WASHINGTON — One in five overseas voters could not cast a ballot in last November’s midterm elections, and overseas military voters may have had even less success, according to a new report released Thursday.
Officials from the Overseas Vote Foundation said their survey shows that more work needs to be done reaching out to citizens and troops living outside America to protect their right to vote.
“For 20 percent to miss that chance, this is a boulder that we need to start chipping at,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, executive director of the group. “We can address that and bring that number down to a more reasonable range.”
The foundation surveyed more than 4,500 overseas voters who attempted to cast ballots last fall. Of those, 80 percent said they successfully navigated their registration systems for voters abroad, and received ballots in time to participate in the election.
But about 7 percent never received a ballot and another 6 percent received their voting materials with too little time for their votes to be counted, according to the survey. The other unsuccessful voters reported problems meeting registration and voting requirements, such as ID validation and confusion over rules regarding the forms.
Nearly 42 percent of military voters surveyed did not cast a ballot, but the report included fewer than 100 overseas troops.
Still, Dzieduszycka-Suinat said the comments from servicemembers indicate the same problems and frustrations as overseas citizens are seeing, and point to the need for more assistance with voting among the ranks.
In 2005 a study by the National Defense Committee found that at least 24 percent of overseas military votes were not counted, mostly because ballots arrived too late to be counted or contained errors that invalidated them.
In the foundation report, only 46 percent of voters surveyed knew about the federal write-in absentee ballot, a last-chance ballot authorized by Congress to ensure all would-be voters have an opportunity to cast their choices.
“That knowledge alone could have cut the number of voters who didn’t vote by almost a third,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said.
Foundation officials were encouraged that most voters who did participate in the election received their ballots at least a month in advance of the election, and reported using more online resources to find information on state voting laws and register to vote.
But they said too much confusion still surrounds the process, and expressed concern that many voters do not know when or how often they need to register.
Additional information on the report and on how to register to vote is available at the foundation’s web site, www.overseasvotefoundation.org.