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The Vote and the Draft

Problems that disadvantage military voters can be fixed by modernizing voter registration, new studies find.

July 28, 2009

Problems that disadvantage military voters can be fixed by modernizing voter registration, new studies find

For Immediate Release: July 27, 2009

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212–998–6289
             Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318

New York
– The voting problems military and overseas voters face can be solved by a relatively simple fix to the voter registration system, two new reports released today by the Brennan Center for Justice show.

These reports provide a concrete roadmap for addressing the problematic disparity in the ways that the American military and overseas population vote. Members of Congress are examining the issue: just last week, the Senate passed the bipartisan Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), sponsored by Senators Schumer and Chambliss, which will make it easier for military and overseas voters to receive ballots, voter registration forms, and other election materials on time.

“MOVE is the critical first step in making voting easier for military voters,” said Wendy Weiser, Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project. “We applaud Senators Schumer and Chambliss, and the bipartisan group of sixty co-sponsors, for passing this essential legislation.”

“But now it is time to take the necessary next step to protect the rights of military voters. Service men and women who live in the United States vote at a rate 10% lower than the general population and the administrative problems they face result in nearly 20% fewer voter registrations,” Weiser continued. “The problems are more acute for those stationed overseas. We must ensure that the men and women in the military risking their lives to protect our democracy can participate successfully in it by making long overdue upgrades to the way we register voters.”

Multiple overseas deployments and reassignments around the U.S. account for many of the registration problems service members and their families face when voting. Registering Military and Overseas Citizens to Vote shows that voter registration modernization (VRM) would dramatically decrease these problems using readily available tools and databases.

Automatic Registration in the United States: The Selective Service Example shows that the Selective Service’s practice of automatically registering young men to prepare for a draft through data sharing with other government agencies offers a blueprint for how to modernize the voter registration system.

“Under VRM, military and overseas voters would be affirmatively registered by election officials, ensuring that no voter is disenfranchised because his or her name does not appear on the registration rolls,” says Registering Military and Overseas Citizens to Vote author Adam Skaggs. “And because registration rolls would reflect updated email and traditional mailing addresses, election officials would be able to avoid many of the problems associated with delivering absentee ballots to military and overseas voters.”

“The Selective Service example shows that the technology and infrastructure are already in place to create a modernized registration system,” says report author Laura Seago.

“If the government is able to identify and automatically register young men for the military draft in the name of our nation’s defense, surely it is worth it to mobilize the same technology and resources to fortify the democratic process at the heart of our nation’s character.”

Both reports are part of the Brennan Center’s series on voter registration modernization, or VRM. Last year the Brennan Center proposed a system in which the states would register all citizens, automatically and permanently to assure that registered voters who move within their states can vote. The Center also recently released Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World, a study of twenty voter registration systems that shows that in nearly every democracy surveyed, government helps assure that every eligible citizen is registered to vote.

VRM proposes to automatically and affirmatively register all eligible citizens to vote using information from lists maintained by other government agencies with which many citizens regularly interact, including departments of motor vehicles, the military, social service agencies, and the Department of Education’s student loan program.

For more information or to set up an interview with Wendy Weiser, Adam Skaggs or Laura Seago, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289 or