Contact: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336 or email: [email protected]
(NASHVILLE, TN), February 18, 2010 – Legislation making it easier for troops who are deployed overseas to vote is advancing in the State Senate after approval by the State and Local Government Committee this week and could be on the Senate floor for final consideration as early as Monday. The bill, Senate Bill 2681 sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), authorizes a county Election Commission to e-mail a ballot to each member of the armed forces, as well as citizens temporarily outside the United States, who are entitled to vote and who have submitted a valid application for a ballot.
The legislation helps the state comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which took effect in October. That law requires the Department of the Army and Postal Service to expedite the return of ballots by using express mail, since they cannot be returned electronically due to election security concerns. To assist soldiers and citizens who are living outside the U.S. for work, school or other reasons, the Federal Voting Assistance Program has set up a website where service members can access valuable information and documents to expedite the voting process. According to the Pew Center on the States, about half of overseas voters fail to vote or to have their votes counted because of current voting rules.
“It is outrageous to even think that only half the men and women who serve us ‘in harm’s way’ have their votes counted,” said Ketron. “We need to do everything in our power to make it easier for our soldiers to vote and to have that vote counted.”
According to Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston, 5,615 airmen and soldiers are deployed, including Tennessee’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment which deployed from Camp Shelby, Mississippi last week to Kuwait. The Regiment will be stationed in Iraq.
In other action this week, the newly appointed Adjutant General testified before the Senate State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Ketron, about the Military Department’s budget request. The Department has jurisdiction over the state’s Army National Guard and Tennessee Air National Guard, as well as the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). The Military Department was asked by the Administration to cut nine percent from their budget, which Haston said causes concerns including keeping up with utility costs for the state’s armories.
Chairman Ketron appointed a subcommittee consisting of Senator Joe Haynes (D-Nasvhille), Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) to look for ways to fund the utility costs. Federal funds used to assist the state’s Military Department for this purpose have dried up, leaving Tennessee without help to ‘keep the lights on’ in the 83 armories across the state.
“We simply cannot allow armories across this state to shut down while our troops who call them home base are deployed elsewhere,” said Ketron. “A solution must be worked out.”