By: Secretary of State Beth Chapman
This November as we celebrate Veterans Day and memorialize the untold sacrifices of Alabama’s military members, we should commit to ensuring that every one of them has the ability to cast their vote at home while serving abroad. This will be more important than ever with Alabama having our first early Presidential Primary on February 5, 2008.
In recent years, with approximately two weeks’ delay for receiving mail in the Middle East and complex regulations governing absentee voting, the system simply did not offer a method that would allow our military voters to receive, complete and return their ballots in time to be counted.
Red tape and outdated delivery methods via the postal service have disenfranchised tens of thousands of service members deployed overseas. Alabama has been most affected because per capita, we have the highest number of National Guard members deployed since 9/11 and one of the greatest populations of men and women serving in all branches of the United States Military.
The problems facing military voters are widespread due to outdated laws and regulations which govern absentee voting. In addition, dependence upon an unpredictable mail system and no regard for new technology add further detriment to the process. It is embarrassing to say that less than 48 percent of ballots requested by members of our military in the 2006 midterm elections were counted. In 2000, the closest presidential election ever, elections officials in Florida disqualified more than 1,500 military votes - three times the number that eventually decided the outcome of the election. What is even more appalling is the number of military members who requested a ballot, but never received it.
With this year’s Presidential Primary process beginning at the end of the holiday season, our troops will face even greater obstacles. Shorter timetables and the earliest Presidential Primary in our state’s history will decrease the amount of time for them to register and cast their votes. Their requests to vote by absentee ballot and their actual votes will also be threatened by the huge volume of mail being processed during the holiday season.
The good news is that Alabama is the first of only three states to ensure that all of our military men and women serving overseas will be able to register to vote and update their registration records each time they change locations. This is the first step in ensuring that they will be able to vote from overseas in the future.
A new Web site, www.overseasvotefoundation.org, developed by the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Make Voting Work initiative, offers much needed assistance. The site guides overseas voters through state requirements, helping to complete and automatically check all information to ensure requests are not disqualified based on technicalities.
This straightforward technological solution is an important first step in protecting our service members’ ability to vote. Still, there is much left to be done. We must do everything possible to guarantee our military men and women their right to vote.
During the month which honors Veterans Day we should honor those who have served in the past and give them our greatest respect. In doing so, let us move forward to ensure those who have followed them in service their right to vote.
Throughout the years our nation has asked a tremendous amount of sacrifice from members of our military and their families. They have responded with great courage in defense of our democracy. It is up to us to make sure that they are not denied a voice in the very democracy they defend.