WASHINGTON - Service members, their families and U.S. citizens overseas away from their home voting locations should register early to ensure receipt of voting materials, the Defense Department’s top voting official said.
During a recent interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Matt Boehmer, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, discussed a myriad of voting-related topics designed to assist DOD voters.
”The Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FVAP, is a program in the Department of Defense that helps ensure military members, their families, and U.S. citizens living overseas are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools and resources to do that,” he said. “What we’re telling military members and their families is to get started. You need to register early.”
To do so, he said, voters should use a federal postcard application, or FPCA, available from the FVAP webpage at http://www.fvap.gov/.
“You can download the FPCA or use our online assistant to actually fill out the form,” Boehmer said. “It walks you step by step through the process.”
During Armed Forces Voters Week, which began Monday and runs through July 7, emphasis will on voting awareness, Boehmer said.
”The goal of that week is to raise awareness of the absentee voter process,” he added. “In addition, we also want to raise awareness to the idea that service members who move - whether it’s a deployment or a permanent change of station - need to let their local election officials know of this move. The easiest way to do that is to fill out a new FPCA.
”Those who chose to vote will not have to figure out the process alone - more than 13,000 unit voting-assistance officers are on the job throughout the military services.
“Unit voting-assistance officers are located in every unit, both stateside and overseas, and their job is for in-person assistance,” Boehmer said.
FVAP provides assistance in a number of different ways, he said, including a “1-800” call center and email, but unit voting assistance officers provide an in-person resource - what Boehmer called a “first line of defense for voting assistance.”
Boehmer also advised prospective voters planning a move to ensure they update their mailing address, because it doesn’t occur automatically.
”So what you need do is fill out a new federal postcard application every single time you move,” he said. “This way you can ensure that your local election official knows where you are and that your voting materials can be sent to that new address.”
Boehmer also dispelled a popular myth regarding absentee ballot voting. ”There are a lot of myths about the absentee ballot voting process, in particular ... we hear a lot about ‘absentee ballots only count in close elections,’” he said.”This is absolutely not true,” Boehmer said. “Every valid and timely cast ballot is counted - no matter how close the election is.”
Typically, he said, the absentee ballot voting process is publicly discussed during close elections, because “the media raises attention to it and says, ‘The election cannot be called until the absentee ballots are counted.’”But every ballot that is cast - both valid and timely - will be counted,” Boehmer said.
The FVAP program has instituted a number of new initiatives, for the 2014 election cycle, Boehmer said, including a redesigned website and a digital toolkit for voting assistance officers.
“The initiative I’m most excited to talk about,” he said, “is for our younger, first-time voters in the military. A large portion (of voters) in the military are age 18 to 24. What we want to do is show these younger military members that voting is easy.”
The goal, he added, is for them to be successful in voting by showing them the tools and resources FVAP has in place to make voting easy.
Military members already using FVAP resources are more than likely to vote, Boehmer said, so officials want to show these younger, first-time voters that the process is easy and set them up for success.
For now, Boehmer noted, the best way to raise awareness about FVAP is through sharing information.”
The FVAP.gov website has a collection of outreach materials Boehmer said. “And we simply ask people to share them. You share them with members of your unit (and) you share them with family members,” he said. “Simply getting the word out about the absentee voting process and how easy it is would be a big help to our program.”Voting is a personal choice, Boehmer said, and FVAP wants to make sure those military members and their families who want to vote have the tools and resources to do so.
”We also want to remind military members and their families to do things early,” he said.