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Mission: Family: Start early on absentee ballot process

Mar. 15, 2012 - 06:37PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 15, 2012 - 06:37PM  |  
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You might have noticed this is an election year.

Have you registered to vote?

Whether you're a service member, spouse or a child who has reached the age of 18, you have rights by law to vote by absentee ballot in your state of legal residence, if you choose to.

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 changed laws to make it easier for military and overseas citizens to vote — and for their votes to be counted. This is the first presidential election testing the effectiveness of the MOVE Act.

This law applies to troops and their family members who are voting absentee regardless of where they're stationed — and it's not just for people stationed overseas. Plenty of stateside troops are assigned in one state but list their legal residence in another; they can vote by absentee ballot, too.

Local election officials must send out absentee ballots to military and overseas voters who have requested them at least 45 days before the election. The Justice Department has been more aggressive about holding states to these standards.

Information about voting absentee also is more accessible with improvements in the Federal Voting Assistance Program. Visit http://www.fvap.gov/">www.fvap.gov to get help in determining the proper jurisdiction where you'll be voting, and to use a wizard that helps you register and request an absentee ballot.

The website has information on your state, including primary dates leading up to the November general election, deadlines and requirements for filling out a ballot.

Finding your jurisdiction is a little tricky this year because congressional district lines have been redrawn as a result of the 2010 census. That process is still ongoing in some states.

Registration requirements vary from state to state. Officials recommend registering and/or requesting an absentee ballot as early as possible — and at least 90 days before Election Day.

You can register and request a ballot at the same time using the Federal Post Card Application. The FPCA Wizard on www.fvap.gov walks you through that process. You can also get information about using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot if you don't get your absentee ballot from your state in time.

Voting assistance officers on installations and in military units also can provide information, and have hard copies of the Federal Post Card Application and the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. Another helpful site for overseas voters is the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation at www.overseasvotefoundation.org.

The MOVE Act doesn't standardize what states do throughout most of the process, but it makes strides in ensuring your vote is counted, if you use the available tools — and use them early.

kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

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