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.
A Defense Department report has found more than a quarter of military voters who requested absentee ballots for the 2010 election never got them. DoD is trying to figure out why and what to do about it. The findings cover what was an otherwise upbeat year for military voting statistics: Uniformed voter participation was up 21 percent in 2010, compared with the last midterm election in 2006. And while voter registration rates among the general population tend to experience a noticeable drop-off between presidential election years and midterm cycles, DoD’s figures were relatively stable between 2008 and 2010.
But based on post-election surveys, the number of troops who requested military absentee ballots but never got them increased dramatically. The Pentagon’s Federal Voter Assistance Program (FVAP) estimates 29 percent of active duty military voters — roughly 120,000 troops — never got their ballots. FVAP’s report offers one possible reason for that: 44 percent of local election officials missed the federal deadline, which requires them to send out military absentee ballots at least 45 days prior to election day.