By Sarah J. Schmidt, USAG Schinnen Public AffairsSeptember 5, 2008
SCHINNEN, Netherlands - With the Democratic and Republican Conventions now behind us, the 2008 presidential campaign enters the home stretch as Americans look to Election Day, Nov. 4.
Americans stationed overseas have just a few more weeks to complete voter registration in time to receive a ballot for the election. The Federal Voter Assistance Program recommended overseas personnel register no later than January, but voters may actually register anytime up to 45 days before the election.
"That means overseas personnel have until mid-September to register, if they haven't already," says Ron Holland, USAG Schinnen's Voting Assistance Officer, "but that's cutting it really close." Holland urges personnel to register as soon as possible, rather than wait until the deadline. "Otherwise, there's no way to guarantee you'll receive a ballot on time," he warns.
Once registered, most states also require a voter to request a ballot for the presidential election (although this can usually be done at the same time as filing the initial voter registration form). Additional deadlines for requesting ballots also apply in most states.
California, for example, sets a deadline of Oct. 28 for absentee voters to request ballots for the Nov. 4 election, but the completed ballots must be received in the county registrar's office by the close of business on Election Day to be counted.
If overseas voters wait until the deadline, then there's little assurance their ballot will return in the mail by Election Day, Holland points out. "This is why it's better to act sooner, rather than later," he urges.
"For those who've already registered to vote, you should be receiving your absentee ballots in the mail very soon," he says, as most states begin mailing ballots 30-45 days before an election.
Capt. Richard Clark, Voting Assistance Officer at Geilenkirchen NATO Airbase, notes that Oct. 12 to 18 is Absentee Voter's Week. "This is the last 'safe' week to send in your absentee ballots in order for them to arrive on time," he advises.
"When you receive that ballot, don't just lay it aside on your desk and forget about it. The clock is ticking. Fill it out, seal it and get it back in the mail so it'll arrive in your home state in time to be counted," Clark stresses.
If you haven't received your ballot two weeks before the election, then you'll need to act fast and contact your installation voting assistance officer.
"Don't forget that absentee ballots played a significant role in past elections," Holland reminds voters. "If you don't vote, then you're allowing others to make decisions without any input from you."
Additionally, the Federal Voting Assistance Program recently updated its Web site to provide online voter registration specifically for servicemembers and their families. Unfortunately, all states are not yet participating in this online method for voter registration.
Check with your local Voting Assistance Officer to see which states are included. If you're a citizen in a state that is currently participating, you may submit your voter registration application online and receive a ballot. You must still meet all the registration deadlines and use regular mail to send in the completed ballot, however.
To use the free service, go to the FVAP web site at www.fvap.gov and look under the column on the right side of the page titled "Quick Links." Scroll to the bottom of that column and click on "use our new automated tool to register/request a ballot." You will then be prompted to provide your name and email.
Once you complete these fields, a user ID and password are sent to your email account, which you may then use to login at the same screen and make a registration request. The whole process takes about ten minutes.
FVAP is working with Department of Justice to encourage use of these online tools by all states. If your home state is not yet participating, then your only option is to complete the paper version of the registration application and send it via regular mail.