Washington — Americans serving their nation overseas will have the resources they need to exercise their right to vote, U.S. military officials affirm.
In an October 2 press briefing, Pentagon spokesman George Little outlined the measures in place to ensure U.S. military personnel and other Americans can cast their ballots regardless of where in the world they are stationed.
“The assistance we provide is completely nonpartisan,” Little said. “The Federal Voting Assistance Program strives to ensure that every absent military and overseas citizen voter has the tools and resources to receive, cast and return an absentee ballot and have it counted.”
The program, developed to ensure absentee military and overseas citizens have the necessary tools to cast their votes, has taken a global, innovative and user-friendly approach, Little said, including implementing several congressionally mandated measures to assist voters.
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and other Defense Department leaders believe "that it is vitally important for our service members and their families who have made great sacrifices in defense of this democracy to have their voice heard in this election,” he said.
For the 2012 U.S. elections, more than 200 voter assistance offices staffed by assistance officers will be available worldwide to assist every unit, in every service, including in Afghanistan and aboard deployed ships, according to Little.
“Between the installation offices and these unit-level voting officers, the department assisted more than 500,000 service members in the first six months of this year alone,” he said.
Voter assistance officers help absentee voters navigate a sometimes complex process. In addition, the Defense Department has developed a robust social media campaign to inform absentee service members and overseas citizen voters about these resources.
As of October 2, users had downloaded nearly 600,000 documents on absentee voting registration from the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, Little noted. The program also staffs a toll-free help line to support voters.
The program aims to improve on the voter experience in 2008, when 22 percent of military and overseas voters surveyed were unable to return their ballots because of various administrative and technical problems, according to the Overseas Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan advocacy group.
In 2008, when election turnout nationwide was 62 percent, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission reported that only 5.5 percent of eligible military and overseas voters cast ballots that were actually counted.
Since then, state and federal election officials have worked to find faster ways to handle the ballots of these voters, which in past elections might have gone uncounted because of distance and unreliable mail service.
In the 2010 elections, nearly 3 million overseas and military voters from 33 states were permitted to cast ballots over the Internet using email or facsimile transmissions.
Military voters — veterans and active-duty personnel — make up about 15 percent of the American electorate. In certain swing states, such as Florida and Virginia, the military vote can be especially important to a candidate's success.