Colorado ranks high in its effort to count military ballots

By Leslie Jorgenson
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Colorado ranks in the top five states for its military and overseas voting policies. In fact, the state needs to make only one minor tweak to comply with the provisions of the federal Military Overseas Voting Empowerment Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Oct. 28.

The MOVE Act, which is part of the Defense Authorization Act, requires that ballots be mailed to overseas military personnel at least 45 days before an election. Colorado’s election laws were changed recently, setting a 30-day mailing deadline.

Meeting the 45-day threshold “is next to impossible for the General Election ballots because of limited time after the primary election,” said Richard Coolidge, public information officer for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Coolidge said Colorado will request a waiver for the 2010 election, then pursue legislation to move the state’s primary election up a week, to the first Tuesday in August, for future elections.

“The MOVE Act raises the bar for overseas voting,” said Coolidge.

The Overseas Vote Foundation recently issued a report that ranks Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, South Carolina and Kansas as the top states in the nation for election policies that provide ballot access to overseas voters.

In June, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law House Bill 1205, an overseas election reform measure introduced by Rep. Marsha Looper, R- Calhan, and endorsed by Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.

“This legislation allows our troops to have same rights as other citizens to cast their ballots,” said Looper. “These men and women overseas are risking their lives to protects our rights — including casting our votes.”

Looper said the concept for the bill originated in a conversation with a soldier who told her that it had been difficult to receive ballots overseas and that the ballots he and other troops had returned often had arrived too late to be counted.

“I’m thankful Secretary Buescher supported this bill and is implementing the policies,” said Looper.

Under the state law, mail-in ballots are sent to overseas military personnel no later than 30 days before an election, and cast ballots received as many as eight days after an election are counted.

“Obviously, my end goal is to ensure that every overseas voter that wants to cast a ballot has the same opportunities as voters at home,” said Buescher in a media release.

“Many of these voters are men and women serving this country in the armed forces, and they deserve the best possible opportunity to cast their votes in our elections,” he said.

The legislation also approves a pilot program to allow overseas military personnel to vote via the Internet. The program, which is being studied, will be funded by grants and private contributions.