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News | June 30, 2010

Online program helps military families vote absentee

By Lisa Daniel American Forces Press Service

Defense Department officials launched an Internet-based program June 28 to help servicemembers and other Americans living overseas vote more easily in November's elections.

The new online voting assistant at will make the registration and absentee ballot application process "quick, easy, seamless and intuitive," said Bob Carey, a federal voting assistance program director.

Americans living abroad previously had to research a 290-page manual to find their state requirements for absentee voting, including where and how to send their applications, Mr. Carey said.

"One of the things we found from the 2008 elections was that voters found the process very complex, very laborious and not very intuitive," he said. "With this, a voter doesn't have to have a master's in election law to figure out the process."

The site asks prospective voters to identify themselves either as a servicemember, family member or other citizen living outside the U.S., then answer fewer than 10 questions, including voting residence and how a ballot should be sent to them, Mr. Carey said. The process takes between two and 10 minutes.

The program automatically determines the voter's election jurisdiction, and the proper questions to ask to meet specific state and local registration and absentee ballot requirements, Mr. Carey said. Once the questions are answered, the voter prints off a form in PDF format, signs it and submits it by mail, fax or e-mail, depending on state requirements.

The online assistant does not store the information after the form is complete, and the information is purged from the server, he said.

The program is expected to increase the number of ballots counted for servicemembers, who are known to vote at a higher rate than the general public, Mr. Carey said. In 2008, it is believed that roughly 5,000 servicemembers' ballots couldn't be counted because forms were inadequate, incomplete or mailed to the wrong jurisdiction.

An even bigger problem was that ballots didn't make it to voting officials in time to be counted, he said.

The online assistant was released as part of Armed Forces Voters Week and Overseas Citizens Voters Week, which runs June 28 through July 7. Americans living overseas, some six million voters, are encouraged to use the site to register for absentee ballots in July.

"If it's August, they're starting to push it," Mr. Carey said. "If it's September, they're going to have problems."