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The story behind our military voting waiver request

by Brian Zylstra | August 2nd, 2010

In recent days, our office has received some inquiries about a federal waiver request to the U.S. Department of Defense by our Elections Division in early July dealing with military voters.

The inquiries come on the heels of this FOX News story headlined “DOJ Accused of Stalling on MOVE Act for Voters in Military.” The story mentions Washington as one of two states  (Hawaii is the other, according to FOX) requesting this waiver.

We’ve asked for a waiver from the “45-day rule” in which states are supposed to mail ballots for military and oversea voters at least 45 days before Election Day.

So why the waiver request?

To make a long story short, the 45-day timeframe doesn’t comply with Washington’s statutory deadlines for candidate filing, printing ballots, mailing and receiving ballots, or certifying the Primary or General Elections.  Go here to see a more detailed explanation on why we requested this waiver.

It’s worth noting that the Office of Secretary of State is surveying our state’s roughly 50,000 military and overseas voters to ask if they would like to receive their blank ballots by email rather than postal mail.

During the 2010 legislative session, our office requested legislation (House Bill 2483 and Senate Bill 6238) that would have permitted military and overseas voters to return a ballot by fax or email as long as the voter’s signed declaration is returned with the ballot. The proposals also would have allowed military or overseas voters to request to receive all future ballots by fax, email or other electronic means. The federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, recently passed by Congress, mandates that voters be able to designate how they want to receive their ballots, by mail or electronically.

HB 2483 was unanimously passed by the House but wasn’t bought up for a full vote in the Senate. We’re considering a similar version of this legislation again in 2011.

State Elections Division officials say sending ballots electronically to military and overseas voters will greatly increase the efficiency of getting the ballot to these voters who are located all over the world.  Many county elections offices that have military bases in their communities have been emailing ballots to military and overseas voters for years.  This has been a popular program with these voters, officials say.

As for the FOX News story, Elections officials say it isn’t accurately portraying the Department of Justice or the Federal Voting Assistance Program officials on this issue. As our Elections folks noted, they recently received some tough questioning from Department of Justice and Federal Voting Assistance Program honchos on why they should grant us the waiver. To our Elections staffers, it’s clear to them that DOJ and FVAP are not “ignoring” the MOVE Act or “encouraging” states to use the waiver.

7 Responses to “The story behind our military voting waiver request”

  1. Thank you for writing about this. This may be the first response to the headlines built upon a vacuum of information. Many people do not realize that only since January of this year did the Dept of Defense agree to act as a Voter Registration Agency. This was not mandated by law but was agreed upon by SoD Gates after requests by Sens Coryn and Schumer as well as several states’ top election officials.

    Military can request blank ballots by email in many states but it is not secure to transmit a voted ballot by email.

  2. Infosec of Troops says:

    There are several issues but one you know is that to get a ballot sent the troops need to give personal information over some non-military networks giving away their location and information to any communications company.

    Did you tell the troops that according to Military command they need to ask their commander’s permission to put this specific troop information , ie..name, DOB, Location, etc on open networks . If their immediate command say OK, then they can otherwise they can not.

  3. W. Johnson says:

    Yes, thank you for offering more details concerning our state requesting a waiver. However, I am not sure why this was not taken care of at the beginning of the summer and done proactively. If you wish to change the voting format, wouldn’t you think it would be done much farther in advance? Let’s stop making things so complicated and just get this done in a timely matter, shall we?

  4. With the push to allow convicted felons to vote and the amount of fraud by ACORN one would think that it would be a priority of the federal and state governments to ensure our military men and women are given whatever they need in order to cast their votes.

    Whoever is responsible in the state Senate for not putting the House passed law to enable our military to vote should either be impeached for dereliction of duty or fined severely for total incompetence.

  5. To comment on “Infosec of Troops” comments, his assertion is not correct. Military personnel ARE NOT required to get their commanding officer’s permission to put their personal information through an online system when used for registering to vote or requesting an absentee ballot. They are free to use online registration and absentee ballot application tools as they see fit.

    I would request that WA SoS office remove “Infosec of Troops” information from this blog post as incorrect information.

    Bob Carey
    Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program

  6. Dave Johnson says:

    Senate bill XYZ, house bill bla, bal, bla—if the MOVE Act was passed in October 2009, why are we just now figuring out that we can’t comply? Why haven’t actions already been taken to comply? I bet the same people who want to give convicted felons, in prison, the right to vote have something to do with this, and I’m also am willing to wager that if they get their way you will figure out how to get the ballots to them on time—without a waiver! Answer please—no spin—why is Washington one of the states that can’t get this right—40 out of 50 were able to figure it out!

    Dave Johnson
    Registered Voter
    Concerned Citizen
    Vetran

  7. Brian Zylstra says:

    Hi Dave – The fact is, our Elections Division staff figured out immediately that we had an issue with complying with the MOVE Act once it was enacted. They’ve been working on this issue ever since. After the Elections Division applied for the waiver for the 45-day rule, Elections Director Nick Handy and Assistant Elections Director Katie Blinn had a lengthy discussion with federal officials about why the waiver was necessary for Washington and they stressed that it WOULD NOT DISENFRANCHISE OUR STATE’S MILITARY VOTERS one bit. You want to know why Washington is one of the few states that requested the waiver? It’s because our primary date is in August, just 2 1/2 months before the General Election, whereas most states have their primary earlier in the year, which means it’s no problem for them to comply with the new MOVE Act. It’s not a case that our state “can’t get this right.” The bottom line is that we give our military voters a 51-day window to get their ballot back, not 45 days. What you need to know is that this 51-day window includes 30 days before Election Day and another 21 days after Election Day. Under the MOVE Act, the 45-day window for states ends ON Election Day. Without this waiver being approved by the feds, the 45-day rule would have meant that military voters would have had to send their ballots back way before Election Day in order to reach their county elections division by Election Day. Why should our military voters be given less time to ponder their ballot and send it in when nonmilitary voters within our state have until Election Day to return THEIR ballot?

    As for the comment about giving convicted felons the right to vote while they’re still in prison, Secretary of State Reed opposes giving such felons the right to vote. In fact, he supports Washington’s longtime policy, going back to our territorial days, that suspend the voting rights of convicted felons when they are incarcerated or on community supervision. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to re-hear this case. Here is a blog post about it that we did earlier this year: http://blogs.sos.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/index.php/2010/04/9th-circuit-will-rehear-wa-felon-voter-case/ . – Brian Zylstra, Office of Secretary of State

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