November 4th, 2006 03:16 EST
U.S. Military Takes Major Steps To Facilitate Voting by Troops
Computers, e-mail, express mail used for U.S. midterm elections
Computers, e-mail and express mail all are part of the voter toolbox the U.S. Defense Department has employed to make it easier for troops serving away from home to vote in the November 7 balloting.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 Senate seats and 36 governorships are up for election, as are countless public offices at the state, city and county levels. (See related article.)
Marine Major Stewart Upton, a Defense Department public affairs officer, told the Washington File November 2 that a range of voting options now is available to troops, starting with the recent creation of a cadre of voting assistance officers (VAOs) assigned to every military command, including those taking part in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Upton, "The VAO is the designated person assigned to assist personnel when they are attempting to exercise their right to vote, including absentee voter registration and voting procedures."
He added the VAOs also are responsible for "disseminating accurate, nonpartisan voting information to include the monthly FVAP (Federal Voter Assistance Program) newsletter, press releases as well as election voter assistance guides."
The FVAP and its Web site were established by the U.S. government to help all members of the U.S. military serving overseas and U.S. citizens residing abroad navigate a sometimes bewildering system of voter regulations and requirements established by the various states. Since it was established in October 2005, the program’s staff has conducted 110 voting workshops for troops worldwide.
Unlike many nations, the administration and operation of U.S. elections is decentralized. Even presidential elections essentially are run by individual states, many of which have different residency requirements and voting procedures.
To acquaint troops with electronic voting options, the Defense Department in September set up a computer guide called the Integrated Voting Alternative Web site. One of those options is the secure online absentee voter assistance program called the Interim Voting Assistance System (IVAS) that Upton said, "ensures that [Defense Department] personnel located overseas can participate in the election process."
Actual ballots submitted using the IVAS option are transmitted by the department’s Electronic Transmission Service.
Upton explained that with IVAS, troops no longer need to apply for an absentee ballot through the sometimes-slow mail system to their "home of record" – the state in which they established legal residency.
"Through IVAS, the entire process of registering, ordering and receiving a ballot is moved to a secure, online application that can be used anywhere and at any time," Upton said. Acknowledging that IVAS was not perfect, the Marine officer added, "We have taken every precaution to limit those risks."
"Ballots transmitted this way [via e-mail or fax] do not pass through the hands of any government official until they are received by a local election official," Upton said.
It is important, Upton said, that "we've developed these electronic options, in cooperation with the states, to assist those people whose service precludes them from voting at home, or voting absentee using the traditional mails."
On November 1, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a message via the American Forces Press Service encouraging all DOD personnel to vote. He said, "Your unit commander, your voting assistant officer, and the Federal Voting Assistance Program office are doing everything they can to make it possible for you to have your vote counted in this election. The rest is up to you."
More information on the Federal Voter Assistance Program is available on the program’s Web site.
For additional information, see 2006 Midterm Elections.