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Editorial: Get It Done

Ever since the 2000 election, when military and other overseas ballots were an issue in the Florida recount, Members of Congress, election officials and interested outside groups have been calling for reforms to make military voting easier.

Here we are, nearly nine years and two wars later, and serious problems persist despite repeated assertions (all of them correct) that service personnel risking their lives to defend our liberties deserve better than this.

It really is past time to get this fixed, as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Rules and Administration committee, vowed to do at the latest hearing on the subject last week, along with fellow committee member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)

Schumer estimated, on the basis of a Congressional Research Service survey of seven states with the largest number of deployed troops, that as many as a quarter of the absentee ballots requested from overseas in 2008 either weren’t returned or weren’t counted.

Military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states went to the trouble of requesting 441,000 ballots, of which 98,600 were never returned and another 13,500 were returned but rejected for various reasons, including a missing signature or failure to be notarized.

Some of the “lost— votes can be attributed to flagging interest or human error, but this is a subject that has been studied over and over and the chief culprit is the difficulty in getting ballots from the county clerk and mailing them back in time to count.

A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 25 states and the District of Columbia do not provide enough time for overseas military voters to return their ballots in order to be counted. The average time to get a ballot and get it back is 66 days in these states, while the average in all states is 29 days. In Arizona and Kansas, it takes six days. In Alabama, it’s 88.

What’s clearly called for is a uniform (and simplified) system in all the states, preferably a system whereby service personnel can print out a ballot from the Internet for mailing, or even a full online voting process, such as Democrats Abroad used for voting in last year’s primaries.

As Schumer said at last week’s hearing, “it is unacceptable that bureaucratic snafus could prevent our troops from exercising the very rights they are fighting to protect. … 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.—

There’s another federal election in just over 17 months. Surely Congress and the states can fix this system by then, so that we don’t have to hear a speech like Schumer’s ever again.

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