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13.8% of overseas military couldn't vote in '12

Jan. 25, 2013 - 03:13PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 25, 2013 - 03:13PM  |  
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The absentee voting process has improved in recent years, but many service members and their families still face hurdles in casting their ballots, according to a new report from the Overseas Vote Foundation.

The foundation found that compared to overseas civilians, a higher percentage of military voters 13.8 percent tried to vote but could not finish the process, compared to 11.2 percent of civilians with the same problem, based on an OVF post-election survey of overseas citizens and military personnel and their family members, as well as local election officials.

But overall, there have been improvements in the voting experience for overseas military and citizen voters since the passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act in 2009. The 2012 election is the first presidential election and first full-fledged test of the impact of the MOVE Act.

"While we acknowledge the tremendous progress and positive trends now visible, continued improvements can still be realized," the report stated.

More than one-fifth of military voters, 21.6 percent, did not receive their ballots, while 17 percent of overseas civilians did not receive them. That rate represents an improvement: 27.5 percent of military voters and 22 percent of civilian voters surveyed by OVF after the 2008 election didn't get their ballots.

Military voters also were more likely than civilian voters to report getting their ballots late. Just over 4 percent of military voters got their ballots after Nov. 1, compared to 2.6 percent of civilian voters.

The OVF survey represents a small slice of the military. Of the 13,676 responses from overseas and military voters to the foundation's survey, about 6 percent fewer than 850 were service members or military spouses.

"The big news in this data is the use of electronic transmission of election material," said Judy Murray, research consultant for OVF. More than 83 percent of survey respondents used the Internet to generate a voter registration/ballot request form, and more than 50 percent received a blank ballot by some sort of electronic transmission fax, email or online.

Many local election officials who responded to an OVF survey tailored to them expressed concern that military voters were not able to receive ballots or voter registration material electronically, according to the report. Some military voters had trouble getting or opening the emailed ballots because of Internet security settings.

Most of the military voters who responded to the survey 53 percent used the Federal Voting Assistance Program website to get their voter registration/ballot request form. In the OVF survey findings after the 2008 election, 23 percent used the FVAP site to complete their voter registration request.

OVF recommends that the states continue to improve their communication and outreach programs to the overseas and military community.

"As required by MOVE, states implemented various tracking systems that were underutilized by our survey cohort," Murray said. "This suggests a lack of knowledge about these important tools on the part of voters."

But military voters seem more aware of these services than civilians, possibly due to more awareness of the">FVAP website, the report noted. About 16.1 percent of military voters used a state ballot-tracking website, compared to 13.5 percent of overseas civilians. About 37 percent used a state website to look up their voter information, compared to 27 percent of civilians.

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