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UPDATE: Missouri bill would make voting easier for troops

Monday, March 1, 2010 | 6:31 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians living overseas could get their ballots by e-mail along with confirmation that election officials received their votes under legislation considered Monday.

The legislation is needed for Missouri to comply with new federal voting rules for the November election that are aimed at helping people in the military and living outside the country cast ballots. A Senate elections committee considered the bill Monday.

Sponsoring Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, said his bill helps "military individuals fighting for our rights to vote to ensure they have the right to vote as well."

Missourians who are out of the country must now request an absentee ballot by mail, fax or in person. Local election officials send a ballot to them through the mail at least 42 days before an election. Voters then return their ballots by mail or hand deliver them. Troops in combat zones can fax or scan and e-mail their completed ballots to Missouri.

Under the new procedures, local election officials would send ballots at least 45 days before the election, and they could do so by e-mail. Applications for absentee ballots and other election information also could be sent electronically.

The bill would allow troops in combat to continue submitting their votes by fax or e-mail. All others would still have to mail them. But all voters overseas would receive an e-mail confirming election officials had received their completed ballots.

J. Scott Wiedmann, a U.S. Department of Defense official for the voting assistance program, said mail service in many countries does not function the same as in the United States. And troops in war zones can go weeks without mail when they are away from the bases where their mailboxes are located.

One county election official said changes to voting procedures must be made carefully to avoid problems.

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said she had already developed a system for her central Missouri county that implements many of the bill's provisions. But she also said clerks would be concerned about having to type in e-mail addresses or attach blank ballots to individual e-mails to be sent to voters.

Missouri National Guard Adjutant Gen. Stephen Danner endorsed the proposed voting legislation in a letter. Danner said one of the most important changes under the bill would be allowing people to e-mail requests for voter registration applications, absentee voting applications and ballots.

"The men and women serving our country and their families make great sacrifices to keep us safe," Danner said. "We owe them every opportunity to conveniently and securely cast a ballot so their voices can be heard back home while they are fighting for us abroad."


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