Election group ponders absentees

A federal commission created to study issues related to voting is considering best practices for absentee voters overseas.

The Election Assistance Commission serves in an advisory capacity to policy-makers. At a regular business meeting this week, members discussed methods that states should use to make sure the votes of citizens living overseas are counted, including the transmission of ballots by fax or e-mail.

The primary consideration is making sure ballots get to and from voters in time, said commission member Paul DeGregorio. "The states have different rules of whether they will accept absentee ballots after Election Day," he said.

States should mail out absentee ballots no less than 45 days before Election Day, which will be this Saturday for the Nov. 2 election, he added. Many states mail them 30 days out, he said.

DeGregorio advocated using fax and e-mail to get ballots to and from voters.

Members of the military from Missouri and North Dakota who are stationed overseas already have the option of faxing or e-mailing their completed ballots back to their states, said Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke.

But the method has created some privacy concerns.

The voters "would have to give up their anonymity," said Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist who has been active in the electronic voting controversy. "They are not casting an anonymous ballot. That opens up all kinds of issues of coercion."

Missouri officials acknowledge the lack of privacy, said Terri Durdaller, communications director for the state.

"This is just an option," she said. "It's not mandated by law. If the military men and women are not comfortable with having their vote not be a secret ballot, they should not use this option."

State officials allowed the option in an August primary election and only about 10 people used it, she added.

"Military members from Missouri or North Dakota who choose to fax their completed ballots through the Electronic Transmission Service must sign a document stating that they understand that they waive their right to privacy when using this service," Krenke said.

DOD officials earlier halted a plan to allow voting via the Internet, citing security concerns.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, DeGregorio also emphasized the need to consider nonmilitary voters. "The DOD has taken some steps, but we must recognize that there are millions of other citizens overseas," he said.

Altogether, about 6 million voters are expected to vote by absentee ballot, said EAC Chairman DeForest Soaries.


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