Report: Half of absentee ballots got to overseas voters too late
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, February 6, 2009

WASHINGTON — More than half of overseas voters who tried to get an absentee ballot last year didn’t receive one in time for November’s election, according to a new survey from the Overseas Vote Foundation.

The results for military voters surveyed were even worse: Less than 44 percent of troops stationed overseas who tried to vote received a ballot in time to fill it out and return it to their local election office. More than one in four never received a ballot at all.

Officials from the foundation said the survey results point to a need to overhaul the absentee ballot process and find ways to ensure those overseas voters aren’t shut out of the election process.

"The vast majority (of local election officials) feel that everything is fine the way it is, nothing needs to change," said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president of the foundation. "Then when we look at the voter data, we see that overseas voters fall through the cracks."

The new report comes just weeks after a report from the Pew Center on the States found that absentee voters in 19 states and the District of Columbia had little or no chance of having their ballots counted because of unrealistic time lines for delivery and verification of the documents.

The survey includes responses collected after the November election from more than 24,000 overseas voters, mostly in Western European countries. Nearly half of them were voting for the first time overseas, but problems of mail delays and confusing registration requirements affected both the new and experienced voters.

Bryan O’Leary, a senior fellow at the National Defense Committee, said that isn’t a surprise.

Military postal officials said all overseas deployed troops needed to mail their completed ballots by Sept. 29 to ensure their arrival by election day, but most voters his group talked to didn’t see their ballots until sometime in October.

Dzieduszycka-Suinat said in response to those complaints the foundation is pushing states to allow blank ballots to be sent to voters via e-mail and fax, a move which could cut the processing time down by several weeks.

Alec Yasinsac, dean of the School of Computer Sciences at the University of South Alabama, said while some may still have questions about the security of returning completed ballots by electronic methods, sending out blank ballots that way should be an easy decision.

"The tools are already there, but the states need to adopt legislation to use them," he said.

"Our overseas voters deserve better than what they have now."

Representatives from several Congressional offices attended Thursday’s report unveiling, and said they expect lawmakers to introduce new legislation on the issue in the next few weeks.

Ellie