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A staunch critic of the overseas voting system has been tapped to head up the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Bob Carey, Navy reservist and overseas voter advocate, accepted the position of FVAP director in June. The agency is responsible for helping the roughly 6 million civilian and military Americans overseas with their voting needs.

Carey said he will carry out ideas he pushed for during previous election cycles. "It’s a different construct being a director than an outside advocate, good or bad," he said.

Before his appointment, Carey worked with the National Defense Committee, a military voter advocacy group, and the nonprofit Overseas Vote Foundation.

Carey said his first priority will be ensuring that overseas voters have the same chance of casting a successful ballot as absentee voters in the States. He also wants to get more people overseas to vote.

There’s certainly room for improvement. More than half of overseas voters who tried to get an absentee ballot last year didn’t receive one in time for November’s election, according to an Overseas Vote Foundation survey released earlier this year.

Numbers were even more dismal for overseas military voters. Less than 44 percent of troops stationed overseas received a ballot in time to return it to their local election office, according to the foundation. More than one in four never received a ballot at all.

Carey said a FVAP report on overseas voting rates for the 2008 election will be released in December.

There are a number of things required to improve overseas voter success, Carey said. State law governs when an absentee ballot can be mailed to a voter, for example. All ballots should go out at least 60 days before the return deadline, and some states sent ballots out too late last year, he said.

"A lot of this is driven by what the state laws are," he said. "There’s only so much we can do before bumping into state laws."

Carey said he will also try to sell states on more electronic transmission options for ballots, including the e-mailing of forms and other measures that would factor in the unreliability of snail mail, particularly for troops in remote locations downrange.

"The obstacles are what is currently in place," he said. "(Ballots) need to be sent out sooner and electronically."

Carey was commissioned a Navy ensign after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985 and earned his Naval Flight Wings in 1989. He is now a reservist.

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