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Overseas Military Face Voting Challenges

Vote by mail gets underway Monday for California’s June 8th primary as counties begin sending out ballots. Members of the U.S. military began getting their ballots about a month ago. But soldiers and state officials say casting a vote from afar when you’re in the military isn’t always easy.

Twenty-three-year-old Forest Crocker-Solis is a California Army Reserve soldier. He was stationed in Texas for basic training during the 2008 presidential election. Crocker-Solis says he was excited about voting. But he found there was little information available to help him make a decision. And he says he was directed to find the army chaplain to get a ballot.

“So I went and found the chaplain, he said, “oh yeah, here it is, and I filled one out, he helped me with some points on the thing that I didn’t understand, I gave it to him and I went away.”

Crocker-Solis says it wasn’t the experience he was hoping for, given the importance of the election. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen says the problem is that military voters face a system that varies from state to state.

“We have a process that I think is unduly complicated for military and overseas voters because there are so many different rules and times depending on what state the person lives in,” said Bowen.

A military unit is made up of people from all over the country. And that poses problems for soldiers when it comes time to vote in an election because each state has its own rules on how to register, when to vote and send off a ballot. Bowen says the issue became apparent when she visited U-S troops a couple years ago.

“I was quite shocked when I was in Iraq to find that the book that the voting assistance officer uses is almost 500 pages,” said Bowen.

According to Bowen, improvements are being made. She said last year’s federal Military and Overseas Empowerment Act is a step in the right direction. It allows more time for members of the military to receive their ballots and return them.

“It required many states to send their blank ballots out much earlier than they were doing,” said Bowen.

Meanwhile Bowen is sponsoring legislation in California that would allow military and overseas ballots to be counted up to six days after Election Day.

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