It can be difficult for a member of the military or their family to vote while serving overseas. Luckily, both the federal and state governments are putting programs in place to help ensure military members’ voices are heard at the ballot box.
Matt Boehmer, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, has one message he likes to share with military service members, their families and civilians living overseas.
“Don’t let your vote get lost in the transition shuffle,” he said.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program, also known as FVAP, is a U.S. Department of Defense agency that provides voting assistance to all military members, their families and U.S. citizens residing outside the United States. While there can be challenges for those living abroad to vote in U.S. elections, one of the biggest challenges facing active duty service members concerns their transition back to civilian life.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act covers active duty military members and their eligible family members who are absent from their voting jurisdiction. But once they separate from the military, they are no longer covered by the act and must register to vote locally. Transitions can be time consuming and stressful.
“From housing to job hunting, there is a lot to consider, and it’s easy to forget updating your voting status,” Boehmer said. “FVAP provides the tools and resources to vote absentee throughout their military service, and can provide them with the necessary information required to make voter registration part of your military-to-civilian transition.”
State policymakers also are addressing the various challenges to ensure votes are counted for members of the military, including those in the National Guard and Reserve.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is urging the state legislature to support a bill making it easier for members of the National Guard to vote. Minnesota election law provides special voting procedures for members of the military, but the definition of “military” excludes members of the National Guard when they are called to duty by the state. The bill would expand the definition to include members of the National Guard activated for state service and would allow them to use the special Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act procedures for voting.
“This bill would allow members of the National Guard to receive their ballot by email (which must be returned by mail) and reduce paperwork,” Simon said. “I am committed to making it easier to vote for all eligible Minnesotans, especially for those serving our country at home and overseas. We should always be working to find ways to reduce the barriers men and women protecting our country face when it comes to participating in our democracy.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted tried to make it easier for military members and their families with the Military Ready-to-Vote initiative, which created a ballot delivery and tracking system for U.S. military and overseas voters registered to vote in Ohio elections. This system makes it easy for service members and their families to receive ballots quickly and ensures they have all the tools necessary—regardless where they are in the world—to return their ballot by mail in time for it to count. Through the initiative’s website, ohiomilitaryvotes.com, overseas voters can access everything they need to participate in an election, from voter registration forms to absentee ballots. Voters can even sign up for email reminders about upcoming elections and track their ballots through the site.
So far, Ohio military and overseas voters have used this tool from 81 countries, four territories, 48 states, 86 Ohio counties and even seven Navy ships to request, submit and track their ballots in local, state and national elections. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office also maintains a military liaison department that specifically works with military members and their families to provide important voting information and solutions, as well as to collaborate with military groups and organizations to provide helpful information and reminders.
“Our service members shouldn’t miss any important deadlines, even when voting may not be on the forefront of their minds,” Husted said. “Members of the military and their families should rest assured that their vote matters.”
How Do Military Voters Count in Redistricting?
Kimball Brace, president of the political consulting firm Election Data Services, is a nationally recognized expert on redistricting. Brace said if a military member reports living at base housing on their Census form, that person is counted at that location in the normal population counts.
“While base populations are accommodated in state redistricting efforts, as is any other piece of geography, some local jurisdictions may/or may not include the numbers when they draw their local districts, dependent upon their own laws,” Brace said.
Since 1980, the U.S. Census Bureau also has made efforts to establish counts of military members and citizens living overseas. For the military members living overseas, their information is obtained from their “home of residence” information collected at the time of induction.
“The counts of military overseas are included in the numbers used to allocate the number of congressional districts given to each state for the apportionment process,” Brace said. “But, once a state starts the redistricting process, the overseas counts are not used to draw the districts.”