Schumer Releases Survey Suggesting Ballots of One in Four Troops Deployed Overseas Went Uncounted in '08 Election
Author: Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
Published on May 15, 2009 - 5:08:13 AM

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2009 - Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, released troubling new data Wednesday suggesting that during the 2008 presidential election, more than a quarter of the ballots requested by U.S. military personnel deployed overseas -- and other eligible voters living abroad -- went either uncollected or uncounted.

"It is unacceptable that bureaucratic snafus could prevent our troops from exercising the very rights they are fighting to protect," Schumer said. "This data provides only a snapshot of the problem, but it is enough to show that the balloting process for service members is clearly in need of an overhaul. We have an obligation to make it easier, not harder, for our military to cast their ballots when they are away on active-duty."

Schumer said the estimate was based on figures provided to the committee by election officials in seven of the states with the highest number of deployed troops. In 2008, military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states requested 441,000 ballots in order to vote from overseas locations, as allowed by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Of those, 98,633 were never received back by the election officials in the U.S. and so were declared "lost" ballots. Another 13,504 were received but rejected for various reasons including a missing signature or failure to notarize, as is required in some states. When combined, these two categories amount to 112,137 voters in those seven states -- or 25.42% of the 441,000 who requested ballots-being disenfranchised, Schumer said.

The Rules Committee, in conjunction with the Congressional Research Service, culled the data by surveying election offices in seven states with high numbers of military personnel: California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. According to March 2009 statistics provided by the Pentagon, the ranks of deployed troops from these seven states represent nearly half – or 43.5 percent – of all U.S. active-duty and reserve troops currently deployed overseas.

This same data cited by Schumer will also inform an upcoming report by the Election Assistance Commission, which provides the federal government's official postmortem on well the election was conducted. That report is not expected for several months.

Schumer-speaking before several ex-soldiers who testified about their failed attempts to vote in previous elections-said the high number of disenfranchised overseas voters illustrates fundamental flaws within the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). That is the program within the Defense Department that handles the election process for military personnel and other overseas voters.

At the hearing, Schumer urged Gail McGinn, the Pentagon's Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, to quickly select a qualified individual to take over as head of FVAP. Schumer also said a comprehensive approach would be needed to address problems within FVAP. Chief among those problems, he said, was a lack of synchronization in the timeline for distributing ballots to voters overseas. Schumer noted that it is a "chronic" occurrence for military voters to be sent a ballot without sufficient lead-time to complete it and send it back in time to be counted. According to some estimates, it can take up to 13 days for a ballot to even reach an overseas voter. In addition, a recent Pew study

Schumer also said that voting assistance officers may also need enhanced training to better facilitate the election process overseas. He also called for increased awareness about Federal Write-In Ballots, which are a federally provided alternative ballot that can be used as a fail-safe when a state-issued ballot does not arrive in time.

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