Since the 2000 recount in Florida, voting procedures have been under the microscope; in close races, painstaking legal details and arcane rules can determine the results. Among those details is the handling of ballots cast by hundreds of thousands of “invisible” overseas voters. In the swing state of Virginia this November, 10,000 votes could decide the outcome in the presidential race, or the U.S. Senate race. In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb won Virginia’s Senate seat by a margin of 9,329 out of the nearly 2.4 million votes that were cast, a mere four-tenths of one percent margin of victory. Likewise in 2008, in another battleground state, Missouri, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama by 3,903 votes, a one-tenth of one percent margin.
Voters who are outside the country could provide the winning margin: Virginia had more than 29,000 overseas voters who cast ballots in 2008, while Missouri had about 13,000 – easily enough in each state to swing a close election. All the more reason for Americans who are living or stationed abroad, those serving in the military, or working or studying in Israel, China, or elsewhere to vote — and for their votes to be counted.
Even though U.S. troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, more than 1.4 million soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Air Force personnel are still serving overseas. Especially for Americans in uniform, stationed in far-flung places from Afghanistan to Okinawa, voting this November will require an extra effort. Here’s a guide to what the federal government and the states are doing to make it easier for them to vote.