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WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in Congress on Tuesday would enable more active-duty service members to cast votes electronically while they are stationed overseas. 

The bill, called the Reducing Barriers for Military Voters Act, would establish an end-to-end electronic voting system for troops stationed in hazardous duty zones or on rotational deployments. Depending on their state of residence, some service members voting overseas must currently print out their ballots and mail them. Voting by mail can pose challenges for overseas troops, especially at remote outposts with limited mail service.  

Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the legislation in the Senate on Tuesday. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., introduced the House version earlier this year.  

“Service members face numerous barriers to voting that make it more difficult for them to more fully participate in our democracy by exercising their right to vote,” Duckworth said in a statement. “We should be doing everything we can to strengthen voting rights across the country.”  

Lawmakers hope the change could improve the turnout of military voters. Since 2014, service members have voted at a rate 15% lower than the general U.S. population.  

Twenty-four states allow electronic ballots for overseas residents through the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, and more state legislatures are considering offering the option. Because elections are run by the states, the Reducing Barriers for Military Voters Act would establish an electronic voting system for service members, and states could choose whether to participate, Duckworth’s office said.  

The bill orders the Defense Department to develop and implement the plan for electronic voting. The system would be tested in the 2024 federal election with a subset of overseas service members, and it would be expanded in the 2026 election.  

“It’s a sad fact that service members in faraway or isolated posts sometimes can’t participate in the very same democratic system they are fighting for,” Cornyn said in a statement. “This legislation will allow active-duty troops deployed to some of our most difficult assignments to safely and securely cast their ballots.” 

Lawmakers introduced the bill the same day that President Joe Biden was set to speak in Philadelphia about voting rights.  

In June, Republicans blocked a major election reform bill, the For the People Act, that Democrats argue is a necessary countermeasure to state-level ballot restrictions recently approved by Republican-led states. Republican-controlled legislatures in more than a dozen states have passed restrictive voting measures since the presidential election in November and former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.  

 Biden was expected Tuesday to make “the moral case” for voting rights, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.  

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2019, says service members “face numerous barriers to voting that make it more difficult for them to more fully participate in our democracy by exercising their right to vote. We should be doing everything we can to strengthen voting rights across the country.”  
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2019, says service members “face numerous barriers to voting that make it more difficult for them to more fully participate in our democracy by exercising their right to vote. We should be doing everything we can to strengthen voting rights across the country.”   (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
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