Report: One-fourth of overseas votes go uncountedJim Abrams
One out of every four military personnel and other Americans living abroad may have been thwarted in their efforts to vote in the 2008 election because of communications and bureaucratic problems, according to a congressional report released Wednesday.
"Registration deadlines, notary requirements, lack of communication, mail delays, poor address information and state laws that put in place untenable mailing dates are all severe problems," Sen. Charles Schumer, chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said at a hearing.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said the study prepared by the committee and the Congressional Research Service, while providing only a snapshot of voting patterns, "is enough to show that the balloting process for service members is clearly in need of an overhaul." He plans to work with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., in crafting legislation dealing with the issue.
The study surveyed election offices in seven states with high numbers of military personnel: California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.
It said that of 441,000 absentee ballots requested by eligible voters living abroad — mainly active-duty and reserve troops — more than 98,000 were "lost" ballots that were mailed out but never received by election officials. Taking into account 13,500 ballots that were rejected for such reasons as a missing signature or failure to notarize, one-quarter of those requesting a ballot were disenfranchised.
The study found that an additional 11,000 ballots were returned as undeliverable.
Gail McGinn, the Defense Department's acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, told the committee that the Pentagon "has taken extraordinary steps to ensure that members of the uniformed services, their family members and overseas citizens have an opportunity to vote."
She said the department will issue a report to Congress in December on the results of the 2008 election and said other surveys, while providing useful information, should be viewed with caution if their results are based on non-random populations.
Schumer later provided data from his home state of New York concluding that two out of every five military absentee ballots go uncounted. It takes as much as 82 days for New York State troops stationed overseas to go through the absentee voting process, he said.
Schumer's office said that because a person living abroad must request the absentee ballot and show a clear intention to vote, voter negligence is not thought to be a major factor.
Rather, Schumer said in a statement, there is a chronic problem of military voters being sent a ballot without sufficient time to complete it and send it back.
Among the states surveyed, California had 30,000 "lost" votes out of 103,000 ballots mailed out. An additional 3,000 ballots were returned as undeliverable and 4,000 were rejected.
The hearing took up possible problems in the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program, which handles the election process for military personnel and other overseas voters.
On the Net:
Senate Rules and Administration Committee: http://rules.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseActionCommitteeSchedule.Hearing&Hearing_id4bbecb7a-f4b9-487b-a1e6-47065a293ccf