By Carrie McLeroyMay 22, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 22, 2008) - The nation will not only select a president in the 2008 elections, but also 34 senators, 435 congressmen, 13 state governors and thousands of local officials. As in the past, officials said the military vote promises to play an integral role in the democratic process.
In the 2004 general election, 79 percent of servicemembers voted, compared to 64 percent of the general public, according to the Department of Defense's 2005 Federal Voting Assistance Program report. Those numbers were up 15 percent from 2000.
Fifty-three percent of the military vote was as a result of absentee ballots, and 20 percent of uniformed men and women voted in person. The same report showed that 6 percent of military voters attempted to vote but failed for various reasons, down 6 percent from the previous general election.
"The Army hopes that by making information more accessible, and the way it is disseminated timelier and more efficient, the voting process will be even more successful this time around," said Alton Perry, the Army voting action officer.
"Voting assistance officers are working hard to ensure absentee ballots get into the hands of our Soldiers, DA civilians, and their family members who need them, in a timely manner," said Brig. Gen. Reuben Jones, the adjutant general of the Army and senior service voting representative.
Voting rights of servicemembers, Merchant Marines, eligible family members and other citizens residing outside the U.S. are covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The FVAP carries out the responsibilities of the Act, and each service must ensure those responsibilities are met.
The 2008-2009 implementing instructions for the conduct of the Army Voting Assistance Program focus on two basic missions, with the primary focus being "the traditional voting assistance provided to Soldiers, their family members and overseas Department of Army civilian employees and their family members."
The second mission involves educating every Soldier about the significance of voting and the voting opportunities available to them.
In an effort to raise voting awareness throughout the services, the department has designated several absentee voting events throughout the year:
Overseas Citizens Voters Week (June 28 to July 7);
Armed Forces Voters Week (Aug. 31 to Sept. 7);
and Absentee Voting Week (Oct. 12 to 18).
During these weeks, voting assistance officers will facilitate voter registration drives, distribute forms and provide servicemembers and their families with important absentee voting information.
During Army Voter Registration Month in August, commanders and voting assistance officers will work with Soldiers, civilians and family members to ensure that each person who wants to register and request a ballot from their state election official is able to do so.
"One of the freedoms we defend as Soldiers in the Army is the right to vote. It amazes me how many people take for granted the freedom to vote." Jones said. "Don't be one of those who gives up the rights you have sworn to uphold and defend for the nation. Exercising your right to vote is extremely important. Every vote counts - and yours should be one of them."
Voting assistance officers will use the Voting Assistance Guide for 2008-2009 and the FVAP Web site to assist them. FVAP provides VAOs with the information necessary to give voters several levels of support. Using these tools, VAOs can explain absentee registration and voting for each state, territory and other jurisdiction. They will also have the necessary forms including the Federal Post Card Application for registration and absentee ballot request, and the back-up Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots available for all potential voters, and will be able to walk voters through the steps to submit those cards and ballots.
All states and territories accept the Federal Post Card Application for voter registration and absentee ballot. It is a postage-paid in the U.S. mail, including the Military Postal System and State Department pouch mail. Voters can request the application from their VAO, or download it from the FVAP website, www.fvap.gov.
Once received, the card must be completed, signed, dated and mailed to the local election official. All states and territories except Guam accept the online version of the card.
The FWAB serves as a back-up ballot for citizens who have requested an absentee ballot from their state, but have not yet received it. During Absentee Voting Week, the VAOs will distribute these back-up ballots to citizens and encourage them to use them if necessary. The FWAB is also available on the web at www.fvap.gov, and is accepted by all states and territories.
"The Military Postal Service Agency has an excellent system in place to ensure all Federal Post Card Applications and Absentee Ballots arrive at the desired destination, making sure your vote will be heard," said Jones.
The FVAP stressed that voters should work with their VAOs or research their resident state's guidelines for state-specific guidelines, as they can differ.
Although the Help American Vote Act of October 2002 extended the FPCA's valid period to two regularly scheduled general elections for federal office, officials recommend that all citizens submit a completed FPCA to their state of legal residence annually, and each time there is a change of address. A voter's legal voting residence is generally the state or territory where he or she resided before entering the military, or the state or territory he or she has since claimed as his or her legal residence.
According to Perry, local election officials should receive the FPCA at least 45 days prior to Election Day, which is Nov. 4 this year, to ensure ample time for processing and mailing. If a voter has not received his or her ballot within two weeks of the election, he should request a FWAB from his or her Unit Voting Assistance Officer (UVAO) or Senior Voting Assistance Officer.
Although the percentage of voting difficulties decreased by double digits from 2000 to 2004, local election officials sited incorrect legal voting residence addresses, inadequate mailing addresses and illegible handwriting as the top disqualifiers.
"When completing voter registration forms and absentee ballots, it is highly recommended that voters consult their UVAO. This is an attempt to eliminate the problem of state election officials returning forms for inaccuracy during the 2008 general election," Jones said.
The Army's goal is to communicate to Soldiers and their families the importance of voting and the steps they must follow if they want to participate in the general election.
"While the military can't tell you to vote, we can supply you with the resources to vote. Especially for those who are out-of-state voters, but absolutely for those who are deployed," Jones said. "It's all about ensuring you submit your Federal Post Card Application in a timely manner, which ensures you are registered to vote and gets you an absentee ballot."
Voters can find more information regarding voting at www.fvap.gov, and at the Army Voting Assistance Program site, www.vote.army.mil. Voters can receive additional assistance by calling 1-800-438-VOTE (8683), DSN 425-1584, commercial (703) 325-4530, or DSN 221-4530.