Our men and women in uniform risk their lives so that as U.S. citizens we may exercise one of our most basic rights—the right to vote. Great strides have been made to improve access to the ballot for active-duty military (ADM) and their families, but many still face barriers to participating in elections. Factors such as mobility, time constraints, and difficulty finding resources on absentee voting all combine to drive down registration rates for active-duty military. We need to do better for Ohio’s uniformed service members.
One example from 2016 makes the point:
A record 200 million Americans were registered to vote in the 2016 election, of which 86.8% cast a ballot. Yet a study conducted by the Federal Voting Assistance Program after that election discovered that this percentage was actually double the number of active military who had voted. They found that only 68% of active duty military were registered to vote (a 10% decrease from 2012), and only 43% of those surveyed actually did vote (a 9% decrease from the previous election).
Part of the problem is the antiquated, time-intensive process for registering and requesting an absentee ballot. In Ohio, ADM voters must fill out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to register and request their ballot. Potential voters must request this postcard from the Secretary of State, fill it out, and then mail it (or e-mail a scanned copy) to their local county Board of Elections—whose address they’d have to look up. They must then repeat the process of filling out and mailing in the absentee ballot itself in time for it to count. A 2016 survey of military voting performed by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that only 56% of ADM and 39% of their spouses considered themselves knowledgeable enough to use a FPCA to register and request a ballot.
Online voting portal for active-duty military
Ohio’s civilians can register to vote online, but this option does not exist for ADM—and it should. Missouri instituted such a system in 2014 that has been incredibly successful, and it’s a model we should emulate. Their secure portal (a website) allows all active-duty military, as well as their spouses and dependents, to:
Register to vote
Request a ballot
In the case of those serving in active hostile zones, submit ballots electronically
Track their ballot online
How It Works
For those who return their ballots by mail, the online portal provides an easily accessed list of local Board of Elections offices, and postage is not required if the ballot is mailed from an APO/FPO mail facility, U.S. embassy/consulate, or U.S. post office. Missouri also has taken the step to open access to the portal for all overseas citizens, regardless of military status, further improving access to voting.
It would be simple to implement this system for Ohio’s ADMs, complementing the online registration system already available to civilians. With minimal costs, this commonsense solution would make it so much easier for ADMs and their families to vote.