Bob Carey is the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and a Captain in the U.S. Navy Reserves. An active advocate for military voters, he has also served as the Executive Director of the National Defense Committee – a grass roots organization that protects the legal rights of individual service members. He was appointed as FVAP’s new Director in July 2009.
Are you a military or overseas voter? I’ve been both.
Most recently, three weeks before the 2004 Presidential election, I was mobilized to active duty. Unfortunately, it was too late for me get an absentee ballot, or at least that’s what I was told. Many of you probably have had similar experiences: never knowing if you’re going to get an absentee ballot, getting the ballot so close to the election that you know there’s no way you can get it back in time, or not even receiving the ballot until AFTER the election. To make a solemn oath to defend the Constitution, and then to have the most fundamental of Constitutional rights, the right to vote, denied, is frustrating to say the least.
Hopefully, with this election, all that will change.
Starting this year, states are required to send their ballots out 45 days before the election, to send them out electronically (email, fax, online posting) if you ask for that, and the Military Postal System will Express Mail all ballots for overseas military personnel and their dependents overseas.
That’s why the Department of Defense designated this week Absentee Voting Week (September 27 through October 4). Hopefully, this week, you will have received your absentee ballot. Your unit and installation Voting Assistance Officers (VAOs) will encourage you and your fellow voters to complete and mail your absentee ballots in by October 2 so it can get back to your election official in time to be counted for the November general election.
What if you haven’t received your ballot yet? Check out the FVAP website. Twenty-seven states have online ballot delivery tools, and the FVAP website will seamlessly, intuitively, easily and quickly link you to those state tools. If your state doesn’t have an online system like this, then the FVAP web site has its own tool that will at least provide a backup ballot, called the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which will list all of your federal candidates. If you use this backup ballot tool, you can still send in your regular ballot if you get it later.
Bottom line is that all these electronic systems provide everything voters need: voter’s jurisdiction, candidates, and complete instructions on submitting the ballot. If you’re a VAO, also think about hosting your own “Election Day” where you make a computer, printer, scanner and fax available for voters to download their ballots, print them out, and if their states allow, email or fax them back.
Can’t remember http://www.FVAP.gov? Search for us on Facebook or through search engines. At Facebook, we have event invitations you can share with your unit members, friends, family (don’t forget, spouses and voting-age dependents of active duty military have the same federal voting rights as the military sponsor themselves!) to inform them of how to access these online tools and the key timelines they need to follow.
For many states, registration deadlines have passed. However, it may still be possible to register and request your absentee ballot. Go to http://www.FVAP.gov to see what your state allows. If you can still register and request your ballot, do it today. If your state allows you to use electronic alternatives (fax or email), use them! FVAP wants anybody who wants to vote, to be able to vote.
With less than 40 days before Election Day, you can make this happen. A lot has changed making it easier and quicker for you to vote. But YOU still need to decide.
Send your vote packing back home. Where it belongs.