Missouri bill would allow overseas online military voting

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 5:29 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Military members and their families living overseas would be able to vote online under a proposal by a former St. Louis County election official.

Rep. John Diehl, the former St. Louis County elections chairman, said spotty mail service, especially in combat areas, effectively disenfranchises many members of the military.

"Mail service, especially mail service in the military, is not exactly the model of efficiency," the Republican from Town and Country said Tuesday.

Diehl said between 50,000 and 60,000 military and civilian voters from Missouri live overseas. In the 2006 election, roughly 7,700 requested absentee ballots and about 3,300 of those were cast.

The House Elections Commission heard testimony on the bill Tuesday but did not vote on it.

"What we are doing is depriving these ladies and gentlemen, who are fighting for our country, the right to vote," said committee chairman Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, who previously oversaw elections as the Cole County clerk.

Diehl said he hopes to implement the system for military voters by 2010. He said he supports a pilot program to ensure the system is reliable.

But some committee members were wary.

"If you seriously have concerns about administering it, then I don't want to offer it to anybody," said Rep. Beth Low, D-Kansas City. "I don't want to lose anyone's vote."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, questioned why other Americans living abroad, such as military contractors or those working for humanitarian organizations, would not be able to vote online.

"They're contributing less to democracy?" he asked.

Diehl said he intends for the program to be expanded to all voters living abroad in future years.

The proposal differs from one supported by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, who supports allowing election officials to e-mail or fax ballots to military members.

Diehl said those methods might not be secure and could waive a soldier's right to a secret ballot.

Currently, service members can e-mail or fax their ballots to local election officials but must receive their ballot in the mail first.

Rich Lamb, Carnahan's executive deputy secretary of state, told the panel he didn't know enough about online voting to support or oppose it. But he said 32 other states allow e-mailed ballots for military members and 18 allow more time after Election Day for their ballots to arrive in the mail.

Diehl said the bill, which he acknowledged lacked specific guidelines, would be fleshed out in the next week.

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