Federal program educates military personnel on electoral process

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

As the Nov. 2 election comes to a head, Cannon Air Force Base personnel will have the special assistance of trained voting representatives to assist them in a myriad of voting issues.

The federal voting assistance program provides that for every 100 people in the military there should be one voting assistance officer trained on voting procedures, absentee voting rules and other issues that could effect whether one’s vote is counted, said Cannon’s Maj. Gary Roberts, who has been trained as such an officer.

“We try to get with the younger kids (for whom) this might be their first voting opportunity, to express to them the importance of voting,” Roberts said. “I just want them to have an educated vote on their view. It’s not only their civic duty, it’s their right.”

The federal voters assistance program starts at the Department of Defense and is farmed out through the various agencies to cover all personnel in the armed services, as well as any American citizen living overseas, the program’s Web site, www.fvap.gov, shows.

The program was set up to ensure all military personnel and overseas American citizens have the resources they need to navigate the sometimes tricky rules of absentee voting and exercise their right to vote.

“I’m excited about this, this is a big deal,” Roberts said. “This is one of the rights the forefathers had for us long ago.”

Voting assistance officers educate members of the services on how to fill out voter registration cards and may refer them to a master site that includes a plethora of links outlining the many guidelines for various states and counties, Pentagon Spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richard said.

Richard said the DoD’s immense resources enable it to reach across oceans and place representatives where they need to be to facilitate voters.

In all, he said the program is responsible for informing 6 million voting age citizens, both military and non-military. State agencies at all levels have to help support the program, he said.

“(The voting representatives) are extensively trained by us,” Richard said. “Basically the (states) make the rules, and they have been very cooperative.”

The military has tweaked their voter program a little for this election, trying to right some wrongs that occurred in the 2000 election.

Some military members overseas did not get their ballots in time to vote in the election, Richard said. It will be different this year, he said, as all ballots are now given priority delivery.

“It is the responsibility of the program to ensure there is an adequate voter’s outreach program,” Richard said.
Roberts thinks high voter turnout in the military is directly related to the sense of history engendered in each basic trainee.

“Even back then in 1978 (when Roberts was a basic), they pressed upon us history of the military, what it stands for, why America’s start was blended in with the military history,” he said. “If I had to guess, I would say we would have more than 75 percent of all branches of the service (turn out to vote).”

The federal voting assistance program falls under the uniformed and overseas citizens voting act.