ENC Regional News
10:46 am
Fri June 24, 2011

New law looks to ease access to the ballot for overseas military

New law looks to ease access to the ballot for overseas military

New Bern, NC – The Legislature this month approved controversial measures surrounding the voting booth, including eliminating straight-party ticket votes and requiring photo ID be presented by voters showing up at the polls.

"So many times when it comes to election law there is huge partisan fights over how election law is created and administered."

Damon Circosta, the executive director for the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. But he was pleased that one measure House Bill 514, the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter act brought no such division. In fact, the bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

"The concept has been here in North Carolina if these folks are overseas in harm's way protecting our democracy we should make it as easy as possible that they can participate in that democracy, and that's why this legislation is so important."

The law co-sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans is modeled after legislation drafted by the Uniform Law Commission, a non-partisan group that promotes legislation across states to address common problems. To some degree the legislation aims to make life easier for one specific job in today's military so they're not having to wade through elections laws of 50 different states in order to properly perform their job.

"What we wanted to do was make our laws uniform with other states so that when you have that voting officer overseas whose primary job is to do their military duty but has a secondary job making sure everyone in their unit votes, they don't have a book that is 3-inches thick, that they can consult one sort of uniform set of laws, and that's why we passed the Overseas Military Voting Act."

For the individual service member the crucial aspect of the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter act will simply be making sure they're given the time necessary to receive and return their ballot, with the measure mandating absentee ballots are sent 45-to-60 days in advance of the polling date.

"One of the concerns in the past is that military service members because of the long delays to get mail back and forth being so far overseas there wasn't enough time to get the ballot printed, get it transferred to our service members overseas and get it back and what this legislation does is make sure that process has enough time. We here in North Carolina have done a pretty good job with that in the past. This will make sure that we will continue to do so, and that time in and of itself is probably the greatest thing we're doing to make sure our service members can vote."

It also provides electronic transmission of unmarked absentee ballots and ensures that a Federal Absentee Write-In ballot will be accepted if an official ballot can not be received and returned in time. The movement to get uniform voting laws in place for military members is just getting underway in the United States North Carolina is just the sixth state to enact a measure with six more states considering it, according to the Uniform Laws commission website. Of the six to enact uniform voting, North Carolina has the largest military population a fact not lost on legislators who were willing to join together on this election measure when other election initiatives are divided by party lines.

09:37 "I was pleased to see folks on both the left and right agree when it comes to our service members there's no room for partisanship. As Rep. David Lewis, one of the sponsors from Harnett County said, people wear their red and their blue but everybody's on board with making sure the camouflage folks get to vote."

Damon Circosta, the executive director for the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. I'm George Olsen.