Troops can get e-mailed ballots, online tracking
Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:01 pm
By KRISTIN M. HALL
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Military voters in Tennessee and Kentucky who are overseas during the Nov. 2 election can now get their ballots by e-mail and track their ballot online under new federal voting requirements.
The Military and Overseas Empowerment Act that passed last year requires all states to provide timely and electronic access to voter forms to help reduce the time it takes to get absentee ballots from military and overseas voters.
Both states have large military populations. Fort Knox is about 25 miles southwest of Louisville, and Fort Campbell straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line and currently has almost 20,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Election officials in both states say the changes are more convenient for troops who previously had to wait sometimes weeks to get ballots by mail while stationed overseas. Voters still have to return marked ballots by mail.
According to February 2009 report by the Overseas Vote Foundation, more than half of surveyed voters in 2008 who tried but could not vote were unable to because their ballots were late or did not arrive.
Mark Goins, the coordinator of elections in Tennessee, said he has heard local officials say they have gotten positive responses from troops about the e-mail ballot option.
“They really did like the ease of doing it,” he said.
State primary elections that occurred later in the year made it difficult for some states to comply with the law’s requirements to make general election ballots available to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before the election. But both Kentucky and Tennessee have early primary elections and both states were already meeting that requirement under state laws, election officials said.
Sarah Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky board of elections, said during the November 2008 presidential election, more than 5,236 ballots were returned by military and overseas voters, an 80 percent return rate.
“We have always had a high rate of return and I think that is because of our requirement that our ballots are available 50 days before an election,” she said.
In Tennessee, Goins said more than 18,600 ballots were cast by military and overseas voters in the November 2008 presidential election. Absentee voters have up to seven days before an election to request a ballot, and Goins said that e-mailing ballots this year makes it more likely the ballots will return by Election Day.
“Those that make their request at the last moment, I do believe they will get their ballot back in time to be counted,” he said.
Both states also have a tracking feature on their election websites that allow overseas voters to enter their information and find out whether a ballot has been sent or received by their local election office.
Melinda Humphries, election coordinator for Christian County, Ky., outside of Fort Campbell, said soldiers have explained to her that where they are deployed and their job duties while overseas makes it hard to vote. There’s not always a post office in the desert, she pointed out.
“If they request a ballot even a month ahead of time and they request it to be mailed to them, the likelihood of that ballot coming back in time is going to be slim,” she said.
She also said that while the e-mail option is quicker, soldiers will still need to find a way to print the attached documents.
But Humphries noted that interest in voting in the midterm election was low compared to presidential elections.
“The only time we get a lot of requests for absentee ballots from active duty military or overseas voters is during a presidential election,” she said.
Her counterpart on the Tennessee side of Fort Campbell agreed. Vickie Koelman, administrator of elections in Montgomery County, said requests for ballots were not high this year.
“We’ve got probably less than 500 so far and in a presidential election we’ll get 3,000 or 4,000,” she said.
Military units have representatives that have been trained to help soldiers as ballots start arriving in the mail or by fax or e-mail, said Vicki Pemberton, assistant installation voting assistance officer at Fort Campbell.
“They should be getting those (ballots) now and filling those out and sending those back to their election offices,” she said.
She said they’ve been trying to keep soldiers informed through Facebook, newspaper articles and e-mails, but she can’t be certain that everyone is aware of the process for voting while overseas.
Pemberton also said that if a soldier doesn’t get his or her ballot, they can use a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is available from voting assistance offices and online.
Kentucky Board of Elections: http://www.elect.ky.gov/registrationinfo/military—overseas.htm
Tennessee Elections Web Site: http://state.tn.us/sos/election/absentee—military.htm
Overseas Vote Foundation: https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/
Published in The Messenger 10.12.10