Web site aims to help overseas voters
In 2004, the Pentagon spent $576,000 developing the Interim Voting Assistance System to help overseas voters request and receive ballots.
Seventeen people received ballots through it, according to a congressional report issued this summer.
In 2006, the Pentagon spent another $1.1 million to improve the system. Eight people successfully used it, the Government Accountability Office found in its June report.
But a nonprofit organization that runs entirely on a volunteer staff says it has created an online service that makes voter registration easier for Americans living abroad.
The Overseas Vote Foundation’s Web site, www.overseasvotefoundation.org, allows Americans living in other countries — including servicemembers, family members, expatriates and veterans — to register to vote.
By filling out customized forms on the screen that fulfill each state and local election law, potential voters using the Overseas Vote Foundation’s Web site can print out their registration form, mail it to their appropriate election board, and wait for their ballot, according to Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president of the foundation.
“It’s really a one-stop resource,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said during a phone interview. “They don’t have to search for information that is critical to them. We know what they need to know.”
In 2006, nearly 6 million overseas Americans requested ballots for the general election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. That includes 119,000 military personnel. Of those, only about 57,000 — less than 48 percent — had their votes successfully cast or counted.
She won’t say how many people have downloaded registration forms from the Web site for the upcoming presidential primary elections, only that “thousands” have participated so far. As of mid-December, 11 percent of the people getting registration forms say they are affiliated with the military, she said.
The foundation is getting notice in embassy e-mails and praise from Americans living abroad. Some State Department newsletters now include a link to the Web site, as does the Pentagon’s own Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Last week, one of the top personnel officers for the U.S. 8th Army in South Korea said he used the site to ensure his own registration.
“They were great,” said Lt. Col. Paul L. Smith, whose job includes oversight of the postal services and voting registration for troops, dependents and other federal workers in South Korea. “They gave me all the information I needed,” he said. “It just cost me a first-class stamp to mail it back.”
In the military, posters, public service announcements, pay stub reminders, webcrawlers and other Internet messages go out during voting season to remind overseas troops they have the chance to vote, Smith said.
Each unit should have a person charged with promoting and educating troops about absentee voting, Smith said. And if there’s a unit out in the field digging foxholes, that voting assistance officer is supposed to go out there and help troops vote, said Lt. Col. Dean Knox, the director of plans, policy and program for 8th Army’s personnel offices.
But weeding through election rules and dealing with local election offices — which sometimes reach down to the county level — can be daunting, Knox acknowledged.
“It’s a learning curve,” Knox said. “But once you can figure out where they are from then they can put you in touch with the right information.”
And you have to motivate people to vote, and to follow the exact rules for each state, in order to get those votes counted.
Dzieduszycka-Suinat said her organization’s site helps guide voters through the maze of rules.
She worked in the software industry in California and Europe, and about four years ago she and a group of ex-pats around the world began working on a site that would help Americans living overseas vote, she said. The foundation was formed in 2005 and, with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, they’ve been running it on a volunteer basis ever since, she said.
The presidential primaries begin soon — the Iowa caucuses are Jan. 3, and New Hampshire voters go to the polls Jan. 8. Other states follow at various times, and with various registration requirements, until May.
But registration deadlines are sooner than that. Florida’s is Dec. 31. Democrats in South Carolina must register by the day after Christmas. The Republican registration deadline is Wednesday.
Some states require registration before you can receive a ballot, and some have different deadlines based on party affiliation. Other states — those with caucuses — are not sending out ballots for the primaries. But they will accept ballots for the general election in November.
Registration deadlines:Alabama, Jan. 25Alaska, caucusArizona, Feb. 5Arkansas, Jan. 5California, Jan. 22Colorado, caucusConnecticut, Feb. 4Delaware, Jan. 21District of Columbia, Jan. 14Florida, Dec. 31Georgia, Jan. 25Hawaii, caucusIdaho, May 2Illinois, Jan. 5Indiana, April 7Iowa, caucusKansas, caucusKentucky, April 21Louisiana, Jan. 9Maine, caucusMaryland, Jan. 22Massachusetts, March 3Michigan, Jan. 15Minnesota, caucusMississippi, Feb. 10Missouri, Jan. 9Montana, May 8Nebraska, April 28Nevada, caucusNew Hampshire, Jan. 7New Jersey, Feb. 1New Mexico, Jan. 21*New York, Jan. 16North Carolina, May 5North Dakota, caucusOhio, Feb. 4Oklahoma, Jan. 30Oregon, April 29Pennsylvania, March 24Rhode Island, Feb. 12South Carolina(D), Dec. 26South Carolina(R), Dec. 19South Dakota, May 19Tennessee, Jan. 7Texas, Feb. 4Utah, Jan. 7Vermont, Feb. 25Virginia, Jan. 14Washington, Feb. 19West Virginia, April 22Wisconsin, Jan. 30
*New Mexico,holding caucuses, but the state’s Democratic party is sending out overseas ballots.
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