WASHINGTON — Two senators said Wednesday they want Congress to improve voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel stationed abroad by tightening rules on states for getting absentee ballots to them.
Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, said they want to eliminate waivers for states that that fail to mail ballots overseas 45 days before an election. States that miss the deadline would be required to mail the ballots express mail, despite the much higher expense.
The measure would toughen a 2010 law governing absentee voting in the military and the counting of those ballots. A congressional report estimated that 25 percent of ballots cast by military and overseas voters in the 2008 presidential election went uncounted.
“The men and women who put their lives on the line so that we have the right to vote should not be denied that right themselves,” Schumer said.
Added Cornyn: “The least Congress can do is ensure that both the Defense Department and the states do everything possible to safeguard their voting rights.”
The senators plan to offer their measure as an amendment to this year’s defense spending bill, which is still making its way through Congress. The House passed it on June 14. A Senate vote is expected sometime later this summer.
Schumer and Cornyn insisted there should no more exceptions to a requirement that states send out ballots at least 1½ months before elections.
The Justice Department has filed several lawsuits against states failing to comply with the law, primarily for tardiness either at state-level or among individual counties. Those have sometimes resulted in extended vote-counting periods and states being forced to send ballots by express mail.
Now, if states miss the deadline, the senators want them to be automatically required to assume the express-mail costs for delivering the ballots and, in extreme cases, for the returning votes. They would also be required to report to Congress on their compliance with the deadline. The amendment doesn’t deal with the votes of non-military Americans overseas.