WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is counting on its improved Web site to help an estimated 6.5 million Americans — U.S. troops at war and others living overseas — vote in the November elections.
Officials said Tuesday that the site includes information on how voters can request and get ballots by fax and e-mail rather than rely on slower postal service. The Defense Department is responsible for the balloting process not only for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere but for all expatriate voters.
Michael L. Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, noted the "special challenge of reaching the deployed warrior on the battlefield."
The potential voters include all 1.4 million active duty service members in the United States and abroad, about 1.4 million of their family members and 3.7 million Americans living outside the country, said Polli Brunelli, director of the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program. The total includes some 225,000 deployed in the wars and elsewhere around the world.
Officials have been working on voting methods, particularly after some troops said they didn't vote in the 2000 presidential election because they never received ballots, got them too late or simply didn't know how to request one.
Military voting problems created an uproar in that election when some ballots were rejected in Florida, where George W. Bush's razor-thin margin of victory gave him the presidency after an extended legal battle. Several hundred absentee ballots from troops abroad were thrown out in the state for lack of postmarks, as required by state law, or other flaws such as no signatures.
The Pentagon had been hoping to do away with some problems by starting Internet voting. But a 2003 pilot program that would have allowed up to 100,000 military and overseas civilians from seven states to vote on the Internet was canceled after outside security experts reported that hackers or terrorists could penetrate the system.
In a conference call with reporters, Dominguez mentioned Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, one of the most endangered Republican incumbents this November. Dominguez noted that Burns sponsored legislation in which Congress appropriated $2.5 million to help apply Web technologies to the process in which voters request and receive their ballots.