WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment co-sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that will ensure the votes of U.S. troops and other Americans living overseas are counted in upcoming elections. The amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill would require states to send ballots to deployed military personnel, and other Americans living overseas, at least 45 days before an election, and provide a 10-day grace period for ballots to be received after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked in time.
“The right to vote is one of the most basic and fundamental rights enjoyed by American citizens, and one which our military service members bravely defend,” said Cantwell. “Unfortunately, failures in our absentee voting system have prevented many of our military men and women serving overseas from exercising this right. The voting process for our overseas troops, including those serving from Ft. Lewis, has been hamstrung by slow and antiquated delivery methods can sometimes result in votes not being counted. Allowing our troops their rightful place in the democratic process is not only what we should do. It’s what we must do.”
According to a survey the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, only 47.6 percent of overseas military voters who requested absentee ballots for the 2006 election actually had their ballots cast or counted. Similarly, of the ballots that did reach election officials, many were rejected for various reasons, including roughly 10 percent arriving too late to be counted.
A recent Congressional Research Service survey of the seven states, including Washington state, with the largest number of deployed troops revealed that as many as a quarter of the absentee ballots requested from overseas in 2008 either weren’t returned or weren’t counted.
In Washington state alone, almost 23 percent of ballots mailed out were not cast for various reasons.
Military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states requested 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.
The amendment supported by Cantwell passed by a voice vote, and the bill is moving toward final passage.