Early military voting problem surfaces

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(Host) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz has uncovered a major voting problem for many Vermont soldiers who have served overseas in the past few years.

But Markowitz says her office has come up with a “common sense” Vermont solution to a problem that many states are now wrestling with.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The problem involves a federal election law that was passed several years ago.

Under the law, any soldier serving overseas who requested an absentee ballot for the 2004 election will automatically be sent an early ballot at their overseas address for the 2006 election even though virtually all of the soldiers have returned to Vermont.

Markowitz says there was some logic behind the law. It was designed to make life easier for people in the military by not requiring them to send in a new request for the 2006 election.

But Markowitz says the law has created some unintended consequences.

(Markowitz) “As a practical matter that means our town clerks are required by federal law to send an absentee ballot out to any military and overseas voters who had requested an absentee ballot for the last presidential election. The problem of course is that the average time for deployment is only 28 months and so those folks are likely home.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz has worked with a number of town clerks to ensure that military voters are not turned away at the polls on Election Day:

(Markowitz) “Vermont does have a kind of common sense approach to it which is that we’ve directed clerks that in those cases they ask the voter to sign an affidavit to swear that they never received the first ballot they never received that initial absentee ballot and so then the clerk will allow them take another ballot and vote.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz currently serves as the president of the National Secretaries of State Association.

She says many of her colleagues across the country are trying to cope with this issue and she thinks the Vermont solution may serve as a model for many other states.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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