August 16 2002

Absentee Voting Program Kicks Into High Gear

By Jim Garamone

WASHINGTON — If you think your vote doesn’t count, just ask George W. Bush and Al Gore.

With the 2002 general election fast approaching Nov. 5, Federal Voting Assistance Program officials are sponsoring Armed Forces Voters Week, Sept. 1-7. The week is designed for military installations worldwide to highlight voting issues.

“The objective is to create awareness of the electoral process and to motivate military members to participate in the upcoming general election,” said Polli Brunelli, federal voting program director. “We want to encourage our military members, their dependents, our federal employees overseas and our overseas citizens to be aware of the elections and to exercise their right to vote.”

She noted that the 2002 elections cover a third of the U.S. Senate, the entire U.S. House of Representatives, 37 governors and hundreds of local races. “These are lawmakers who will effect policies that govern our way of life,” she said.

The states govern the voting rules for their residents. The FVAP works with state officials to ease absentee ballot processes. For example, Brunelli said, the program asked the states to allow service members deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to receive voting materials by facsimile machines and to fax in completed ballots.

The agency urges military personnel to contact installation voting assistance officers to learn about what they must do to vote in 2002. All units with more than 25 people also have voting assistance officers.

U.S. citizens residing overseas can visit embassies and consulates and get the same information.

The program launched an education process to teach voting assistance officers what they need to know to help service members. Worldwide, the office sponsored more than 100 workshops, Brunelli said.

She said her office has met with state leaders to ensure that all absentee ballots are in on time, properly filled out and counted.

“We’re working on postal issues as well,” Brunelli said. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz signed a memo to the military postal service to ensure that all voting materials are postmarked and cancelled for all deployed vessels and personnel. Further, military postal service employees will look for voting materials to ensure they are moved expeditiously.

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