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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voting from Overseas

With the U.S. presidential election too close to call, hundreds of thousands of Americans living in Europe have been posting their absentee ballots with a sense that they could truly make a difference on November 6.
From Berlin to Paris and London to Madrid, they have closely tracked the battle between Democrat President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, though the emotional temperature is several degrees lower than four years ago, when most expats rallied behind Obama after two terms of George W. Bush, whom many thought had tarnished the U.S. image abroad.
Both the Republicans and Democrats have courted the expat vote since 1988, when absentee ballots reversed the outcome of a Senate race in Florida, allowing Republican Connie Mack to pip Democrat Buddy MacKay, who had led when polling stations closed.
Absentee ballots also made the difference in another Senate race in 2008. Democrat Al Franken came from 215 votes behind to win with the help of absentee votes.
The tightness of the presidential race, with a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll showing a dead heat , has made the expat vote arguably more important than ever. Both Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad organisations have gone all out to get Americans registered and voting in their home states.
Some overseas voters are in uniform. Hope Hodge writes at Human Events:
While a number of battleground states have reported dismal numbers of military absentee ballot requests in early counts, the western swing state of Colorado announced Monday that its ballot request totals for military and overseas absentee voters have already surpassed 2008 totals, with eight days to go until the election.
After low recorded voter turnout in these demographics four years ago, Congress authorized $75 million for the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which, among other provisions, established and staffed voting assistance offices at over 220 military bases. But early ballot request totals in a number of states showed an even more depressed military voting turnout than in 2008, and a bombshell report at the end of August from the Department of Defense Inspector General found that half of the new voting offices were unreachable by telephone or email.
Colorado is proving that low military voting does not have to be the status quo.
The office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced that 19,055 military and overseas ballot requests had been received, 2,804 more than in 2008. The 8,320 completed ballots the state has already received from these voters amounts to a return rate 80 percent higher than in the 2010 election.
The improvement in numbers is attributed to a statewide project launched in 2010 that allows overseas voters to receive next-day ballots via email and mail them back at their convenience. 
Some of these voters are students on study-abroad programs.  The Capital News Service reports:
In 2009, the federal government passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The legislation led 47 states, including Virginia, to pass similar laws increasing enfranchisement of overseas voters.
Under the legislation, voters are no longer required to have absentee ballots notarized. States are required to send absentee ballots to registered overseas voters at least 45 days prior to the election. Electronic absentee ballots and registration applications must be made available online by each state in case hard copies don’t arrive, the law states.
Currently, 13 states allow online voter registration, according to a spokesperson for the Pew Center on the States; Virginia is not one of them.
Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) spearheaded the trend toward electronic registration in 2008. Nearly 5 million people accessed the OVF webpage in 2008, including nearly 2 million in the October before the election, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.
Overseas Vote Foundation established an offshoot, Youth Vote Overseas (YVO), to target students going abroad. The organization does outreach with more than 450 colleges across the country, including more than 10 schools in Virginia.
The goal is to encourage students to register to vote before going abroad, explained Marina Mecl, Youth Vote Overseas outreach program director. As a result, much of YVO’s web traffic comes from within the U.S.
Contact with partner universities overseas helps YVO’s cause, Mecl said, especially in traditional hubs for exchange students.
Between July and October, the organization tallied its highest number of registrations abroad from the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and France – four of the top five study abroad destinations from 2008 to 2010. About three out of four voters registering on the site are between 18 and 24.