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June 24, 2011
Advertiser Editorial: Help military vote

The Montgomery Advertiser
June 24, 2011

Ballot security in elections is crucial, but concerns over ensuring that the person who casts a ballot is eligible to do so has in the past stopped Alabama from adequately addressing another crucial need -- ensuring that members of the U.S. military serving overseas have a fair opportunity to vote.

That should change under a new law that gives military and other overseas voters new options for returning their absentee ballots.

In the past, Alabama strictly limited overseas voters to just two methods of returning absentee ballots -- by hand or by U.S. postal mail. And since hand delivery is not a realistic option for most service members, that meant essentially postal mail.

But Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman has been pushing for several years to allow other options, and this year the Legislature went along with her. Lawmakers approved a bill 97-0 in the House and 30-0 in the Senate to expand the ways overseas voters can return ballots. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville.

Under the new law, military and other overseas voters will be able to return ballots by fax, secure electronic transmission, and through such commercial ground and air carriers as FedEx and UPS.

This should help to increase the number of overseas voters who participate in the state's elections. According to the Secretary of State's office, approximately only 4,800 absentee ballots were requested by military and overseas voters in the most recent election, and of those only about 1,100 were returned.

As the legislation was being considered, Chapman said: "We must ensure that our military voters are able to cast their ballots. Those who defend democracy should be allowed to participate in it."

Her sentiment is right on target.

However, concerns about ballot security cannot be taken lightly, either. The Secretary of State's office should monitor the process closely during the next few election cycles to ensure that no one abuses these new methods of returning ballots.

That's not likely to happen, but it won't hurt to check. Even if tweaks have to be made to the new law, we applaud Chapman and the Legislature for seeking ways to make it easier for U.S. military members serving overseas to vote.

For more information, visit Secretary of State John H. Merrill’s Web Site: