Absentee voting for soldiers

The World

(Image: army.mil)

There are six million potential U.S. voters living overseas -- 1.4 million of them are in the military. Don Johnson used to be one of them -- he served in the army for 26 years. He now runs a non-profit called Count Us In, a group dedicated to trying to get more military personnel to vote. Johnson understands it's an uphill battle -- that's especially true given the fact members of the military typically move every couple of years, and for much of the past seven years a lot of that moving has been into, and out of, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Johnson says the absentee voting process is broken: "So bad is it that in 2006, in a report done by the Election Assistance Commission in the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office, they estimate that only 5.5 percent of the military and overseas civilians were actually able to cast a ballot that counted in the 2006 elections -- and that's pretty sad."

That figure is disputed by the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program; still most agree that the absentee voting process is fraught with problems, mainly, it takes too long. State election officials suggest that members of the military wanting to vote absentee should request a ballot 45 days before the election, but often, ballots aren't ready then. And with all but a few exceptions, each step -- from requesting an absentee ballot, to getting the completed form back to election officials -- is still done by mail.

A few states are taking the lead when it comes to reforming the absentee voting system. Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia now send their blank ballots via fax and email.

Many say the ideal is to have each step of the voting process done electronically. States have been reluctant to embrace this solution though, particularly when it comes to returning completed ballots -- they worry about ensuring the voter's privacy.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

More "The World."