Antiquated voting systems in 16 states and the District of Columbia are disenfranchising military personnel stationed overseas by giving them no time to request and submit absentee ballots, according to a report [PDF] released today by the Pew Center on the States.
The study, billed as the first analysis of voting systems for troops posted overseas, examined how states let troops abroad request and submit absentee ballots, how long states take on average to process requests, and how long that correspondence spends in the military mail and U.S. Postal Service. The conclusion: Many states are not using e-mail and fax to speed up the process.
Take New York, one of the 16 states giving its overseas voters no chance of requesting and submitting an absentee ballot in time to be counted. It takes 24 days for a military voter's absentee ballot request to wind its way through the military mail and the Postal Service. The request is processed in two days, and a ballot is shipped in another four. The ballot spends another 24 days en route to the voter, who, after taking three days to complete it, sends it on one last agonizing 24-day journey to New York, where it is counted. The total process takes a whopping 82 days, 13 days more than the state provides for voters.
Compare the Empire State with Colorado, whose overseas voters can request ballots electronically and cast them by e-mail or fax, slashing the voting process time down to eight days.
"No state is trying to create barriers to voters, but what is happening is that many of these laws and administrative systems are out of date," said David Becker, the project director for Pew's "Make Voting Work" initiative.
Among the report's recommendations are that states allow election materials to be transmitted electronically and that use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot -- a blank provisional ballot -- be expanded. Sending ballots by e-mail and fax presents security and privacy problems, the report admits. Absentee ballots are already disqualified at a high rate in the U.S., and rejection rates for the FWAB, on which overseas voters must accurately write in the names of candidates, are likely to be worse.
In addition to New York, the other states that currently don't provide overseas military personnel with enough time to vote are Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.