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Voting overseas is getting easier

Posted at 1:59 PM on April 8, 2008 by Michael Marchio (3 Comments)

It was a day for voting about voting on the House floor yesterday.
HF1259, carried by Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-Lindstrom) would make it easier for Americans overseas to vote, and was approved by a 129-0 vote yesterday in the first half of the House session.

According to Rep. Kalin, 80 percent of all votes cast through the overseas voting system are not counted in time for the election. In the 2006 election in Minnesota, he said, only 3,000 of the 64,000 ballots in Minnesota were received in time.

"Every citizen should be guaranteed that their vote gets counted, and this bill comes much closer to making sure that this guarantee becomes a reality," Rep. Kalin said.

So who would it apply to? Employees of missionaries, students, Peace Corps workers, employees of multinational corporations, and members of the military, who account for half the Minnesotans voting overseas.

Current law requires that ballots be mailed to those stationed overseas, and then mailed back, and the military asks for at least 45 days turnaround time. This doesn't leave a lot of room for error, and under this bill, people overseas would be able to request ballot information electronically, speeding up the process. It would also make the military identification card and ID number a valid form of identification.

The Pentagon requested a couple of other provisions, including allowing soldiers to email their ballots, but Rep. Kalin said they chose not to include them to make the bill more acceptable, and voting more secure.

Two provisions were taken out of the Senate version of the bill to make it less controversial. One would have established the right to vote by citizens who have never been to the United States to gain residence.

You'll recall earlier this year, some raised questions on whether Sen. John McCain is technically an American citizen because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone to a military family stationed overseas. Rep. Kalin said that federal legislation on this is in the works and would apply to Minnesota residents if it passes.

Another would have established emergency procedures for the Secretary of State to get ballots to soldiers if there is a sudden deployment. Neither of these was included in the House version of the bill that was approved.

A second voting bill, SF1298, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL- Finlayson), taken up when the House reconvened later that night, made it so that when a person changes their address with the U.S. Postal Service, the information would be sent to the Secretary of State's office for updating too. Other than technical changes, it would also prohibit people from receiving payment for collecting voter registration applications.

It would also add cell phone bills to current proofs of residence, including gas, electricity, telephone, cable, water bills and rent statements.

An amendment offered by Rep. Tom Emmer, would require photo IDs to vote to prevent fraud, but it was not adopted on a vote of 59-70. Check out the VoteTracker here. Another, offered by Rep. Laura Brod, would have required people who conduct voter registration to be trained and certified by the Secretary of State's office. It was voted down, 48-82.

UPDATE: I talked to Rep. Kalin this morning, and he clarified a couple of points. 80 percent of all military members who requested ballots - not every soldier - failed to be counted, and exactly 2,695 of the 64,000 eligible Minnesota voters overseas, including members of the military, and Peace Corps and all the other groups I listed above, had their votes counted. He pointed out that this bill was proposed at the suggestion of the Pentagon in order to improve these pretty ghastly figures on the effectiveness of the overseas voting program.

Comments (3)

Thank you, Rep. Kalin, for taking action so that the votes of Minnesota residents 'Over There' will be counted here.

Posted by Nancy | April 8, 2008 9:28 PM

This is a definite step in the right direction. It is repulsive that people voting 'absentee' don't have assurance that their vote will be counted. There is no reason why the Sec. State can't print the ballots on October 1 - afterall, we already know by then who is going to be on the ballot, and then mail them out then. A lead time of 45 days? Why not 60? 70? *As soon as possible* would be an even better time-frame.

One ought to be able to request an absentee ballot for any damn reason they want. "I'm too lazy to go to my polling place" is fine with me. "I'm in a nursing home and can't go to the voting place"; "I'm going to be at a professional conference in Denver that day". There are countless reasons why a person might not be able to make it - personal or professional.

This is the most holy and sacred obligation we, as citizens, have. We should do everything feasible to make sure everyone can exercise that obligation to Vote.

Posted by Elizabeth T. | April 8, 2008 9:56 PM

Thanks for the comments Nancy and Elizabeth. I wholeheartedly agree that making sure our voting system works, which these numbers suggest it clearly is not, at least for some Americans, is among the most important things the Legislature can do. In light of the hearings going on at Capitol Hill about the war in Iraq right now, it makes this legislation all the more important, because it sounds like we're going to have a lot of servicemen and women overseas for this November. Everyone deserves to have their vote counted, but its hard to imagine anyone who deserves it more than soldiers stationed overseas.

Posted by Michael Marchio | April 9, 2008 11:52 AM