As several states struggle to get ballots to military, Tennessee’s new law makes it easier for troops deployed overseas to vote

(NASHVILLE, TN), October 21, 2010 – As several states struggle to get ballots to those serving in the armed forces, Tennessee’s new law is working to make voting easier for troops who reside in the state and who are deployed overseas.  The new law, Public Chapter 636, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), took effect on August 20.  Ketron said election commissions across the state are encountering no evident problems thus far during the law’s first election after implementation.

“It is outrageous to even think that any of our men and women who serve us in harm’s way might not have their votes counted,” said Ketron. “However, that is what occurred in the past in Tennessee and is unfortunately the case in many other states during this election.  This new law works to ensure that those who preserve our freedoms are given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”

Tennessee’s new law authorizes county election commissions to e-mail ballots to members of the armed forces and other citizens temporarily living outside the United States who are entitled to vote and who have submitted valid applications for ballots.  Ketron says this expedites the process so the voters have more time to make decisions and return their ballots on time. The new law also requires Tennessee to develop a database that voters overseas can use to see if their ballots have been received by their county election commissions and their votes are counted.

The legislation helps the state comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which took effect last October.  That law requires election officials to send out ballots to military members serving overseas at least 45 days before the elections.

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) recently announced agreements with officials in Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where problems enforcing the MOVE Act have occurred.  The DOJ has referenced an agreement with North Dakota, has filed suit against Guam and is reported to be looking into ballot delays in Illinois.  The Military Voting Project (MVP) has also claimed in published media reports that it uncovered MOVE Act violations in several other states.

Tennessee was among states under DOJ action in 2008 when Justice officials stepped in to help ensure that military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas had an opportunity to vote in the state’s February 5 federal primary election.  The DOJ entered into agreement for emergency procedures with Tennessee’s former election officials under Secretary of State Riley Darnell after the state failed to mail requested absentee ballots to the state’s military in sufficient time to ensure the ballots were counted.

“Failure to get ballots to our servicemen and women who serve us overseas cannot be tolerated in Tennessee,” added Ketron.  “We need to do everything in our power to make it easier for our soldiers to vote and to have those votes counted — and that is what this new law does.  Thus far, implementation has gone smoothly.”

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