Responding to the vocal concerns of American expatriates, the Pentagon agency responsible for overseas voting has agreed not to enforce a requirement for voters requesting absentee ballots to state categorically that they either intend to stay abroad indefinitely or not. In a separate development, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service said that it would make it easier for American citizens abroad who have not been filing tax returns — some from ignorance of new requirements — to meet their legal obligations if they owe little or no taxes. Expatriate groups applauded both developments. They had been fighting the ballot requirement, saying its black-or-white language could put overseas Americans in an untenable position and might dissuade some from voting. The groups have also complained about tough — and they say sometimes unfair — new I.R.S. enforcement of tax laws for those living abroad. Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, who heads the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation, called the Pentagon’s decision “a huge win for overseas citizens” and praised the agency for responding to voters’ concerns.
The Pentagon unit, the Federal Voter Assistance Program, serves both military voters and overseas civilians. It had said that its new Federal Post Card Application form — which is used to register to vote and request an absentee ballot — would require civilians abroad to stipulate either that “I intend to return” to the United States or “I do not intend to return.” Many expatriates expressed consternation. Some said they had no idea whether they would ever return. Still others complained that declaring an intent to return might subject them wrongly to state taxes. Expatriates said they faced an uneasy choice of answering untruthfully or simply not voting. The Pentagon agency had said that the change could not be revoked.
But in an e-mail Friday to expatriate groups, the agency’s acting director, Pam Mitchell, said she had received clearance to offer both the old and newer versions of the voting form. It came after five members of Congress, including Representative Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who heads the Americans Abroad Caucus, wrote the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, asking for the old form to remain available. “No eligible voter should be faced with the unjust, unnecessary and improper choice between misleading their government and participating in our democratic system,” the June 21 letter said.