|Absentee Votes Make a Difference
By Barbara A. Eastom-Bates
This year more than 3 million military and government personnel living overseas are eligible to vote by absentee ballot, and this is in addition to the 2.7 million eligible military voters stationed stateside. When you add it up, your vote and the votes of your fellow military members can greatly affect an election.
The Importance of Your Vote
"Voters in the military could play a major role in the 2004 presidential race, especially in close states where their numbers are high and turnout is expected to be strong," according to George Edmondson, a Cox Newspapers Washington, D.C., news correspondent.
Even though the percentage of military voters typically exceeds that of the general public, the Department of Defense (DoD) wants it to be higher and has stepped up efforts to encourage military voters.
In September, the DoD launched Armed Forces Voters Week and sponsored registration drives in collaboration with base organizations, spouse clubs, family services, and national groups.
In a written address, Gordon R. England, Secretary of the Navy, said, "You wear the cloth of the nation and defend democracy and the right of all Americans to vote. I encourage all of you to register and vote."
Procedures and deadlines for absentee voting differ by state, but one certainty is that you need to register immediately.
LT Edward Westbrook, voting officer on the USS Kitty Hawk, recommends Sailors return their voter registration cards as early as possible.
"The registration card has to go back to the county where the voter is registered, and then the write-in ballot has to come all the way back overseas. If there are any delays in the mail, the ballot may not reach the states in time," Westbrook said.
Absentee ballots must reach their county of registration by the close of polls on voting day, November 2.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) assists Sailors who need help with voting and provides state-specific voting guidelines.
"You can obtain a federal post card application (FPCA) for absentee ballots from your unit voting assistance officer, who will assist you with the procedures for registering to vote in your state. You can also obtain the online FPCA form from the FVAP website," said Polli Brunelli, director of FVAP.
To help in the effort, voting assistance officers are also visiting ships to make sure every Sailor has an opportunity to fulfill their civic duty.
Deployed Sailors whose ballots are not received in time will have one "court of last resort," according to Charles Abell, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Electronic voting, now available to troops when allowed by their local voting laws, involves scanning a marked paper ballot into a pdf file, attaching it to an email, and sending it stateside. These ballots can also be faxed directly to local officials.
Abell cautions that electronic transmission is not a replacement for traditional paper ballots. Sailors using any type of electronic means should mail their original ballot as a back up and understand that the secrecy of electronic votes cannot be guaranteed.
"The very cornerstone of our democracy is the hard-won right to vote. By exercising your right to vote, you help make our nation a shining beacon of democracy and self government to all other people in the world," England said.
Remember, every vote counts. Make your voice heard.