Military voting and ballot timing

Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher hopes today’s primary election is the last one to be held in August.

If Colorado’s primary election were moved to, say, late June, it would provide sufficient time to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act — known as MOVE. In other words, Colorado would be better positioned to ensure its citizens who are serving overseas in the military receive absentee ballots in plenty of time to get them mailed back by Election Day.

Along with some politicians, we were concerned when we learned that a number of states, Colorado among them, are seeking waivers from the MOVE Act’s requirement that overseas military personnel receive their absentee ballots at least 45 days prior to the Nov. 2 general election.

Troops shouldn’t be disenfranchised from democracy’s most basic right — the right to vote — just because they’re on foreign soil or in foreign waters, protecting the rights of those back home. But some have suffered that fate, as absentee ballots were received too late to give them a chance of marking their ballots and returning them to their home states in time to be counted.

That’s why Congress passed the MOVE Act last fall. And it’s why Texas Sen. John Cornyn wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder recently to demand to know why the government was considering granting waivers to the dozen or so states that have requested them. Waivers are authorized in certain circumstances under MOVE.

It doesn’t take great math skills to understand why Buescher and many county clerks in Colorado say the waiver is necessary.

Following today’s primary, county clerks in Colorado have 10 days by statute to certify the results to Buescher’s office. Then Buescher must certify the statewide results by Sept. 3.

If no waiver is granted, the 45-day rule means absentee ballots must be sent to overseas military by Sept. 18. So county clerks will have 15 days from the time the statewide results are certified to finalize their ballots with all local races, prepare multiple different ballots for various special district elections and variations from precinct to precinct, then they must deliver them to approved printers to produce final copies, and finally mail them to overseas military personnel.

And all this is based on the assumption there will be no recount required in any of the primary races. If there is, that will add another 30 days to the process, Buescher said.

If there are no recounts or printing errors, Buescher said he fully expects the majority of county clerks to have their ballots ready to mail overseas at least 35 days prior to the general election, and many will meet the 45-day requirement.

We certainly hope he’s right. In any case, it is evident that the late date of this year’s primary, combined with the timing of post-primary certifications, pose a real obstacle when it comes to meeting the 45-day requirement in MOVE. A waiver for this year is definitely warranted.

But before 2012, Colorado must push up the date of its primary election so there is a reasonable period between primary and general election.


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