March 30, 2010
Contact: Sen. David Blount,

Yesterday, the Governor signed Senate Bill No. 2642 (Blount) into law.

The new law makes it easier for military personnel and Americans living
overseas to vote absentee. It expands the time to register to vote,
streamlines the absentee ballot request process (especially for runoff
elections), and allows voting by email for these voters.

The bill conforms state law with the federal MOVE (Military and Overseas
Voter Empowerment Act) that was signed into law by the President last year.

Bill history:
http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2010/pdf/history/SB/SB2642.xml

Here is a column I wrote on the subject in October:

Improving Military Voting in Mississippi

In August, I had the honor of attending the sendoff for the 114th Military
Police Company of the Mississippi Army National Guard at Clinton High
School. It was a packed house as people jammed into the auditorium to show
their support for these men and women who will serve our country in Iraq.

While America’s military men and women are away from home, we need to do all
we can to protect one of their most basic rights: the right to vote.

For our military personnel, voting requires using the absentee ballot
process. Prior to representing Hinds County in the state Senate, I worked
for thirteen years at the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees
elections in our state. During that time, Mississippi was recognized as one
of the nation’s leaders in implementing reforms to make it easier for
military personnel to vote by absentee ballot. The office continues to
focus on this important responsibility.

Military voters may be in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on a ship or submarine.
Mail service may be infrequent at best. In addition, men and women serving
in our military move their residences more often and may need to change
their voter registration. They may not able to reach the Circuit Clerk’s
office in a small Mississippi county easily.

A recent study by the PEW Center on the States found that Mississippi is
ahead most states in allowing adequate time to vote for military personnel
serving overseas. This is because our state allows military voters (not all
voters) to request an absentee ballot electronically and for the ballot to
be sent and returned electronically. This process must be handled by the
Secretary of State’s Office or the county Circuit Clerk’s office to prevent
fraud. We also allow military voters to use a special write-in absentee
ballot when printed ballots may not be available.

A recent report from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann found electronic
voting to be vastly preferred by military personnel. Electronic
communications is especially important for runoff elections where candidates
are sometimes not finalized until a week before the election. Printed
ballot sent by mail simply do not arrive in time when a voter may be
stationed at a base or on a ship on the other side of the world.

We need to make sure the voting process works for our military personnel.
We ought to track each military absentee ballot request to make sure ballots
are counted and, if not, why not. One recent study found that about
one-fourth of experienced military voters had problems voting in 2008.
Another study states that in 2006 only about one-third of absentee ballots
requested were successfully cast and counted!

The U.S. Congress is considering legislation to simplify voter registration
and absentee balloting for overseas and military voting. We will need to
monitor any federal election law changes to make sure they are seamlessly
integrated with our state procedures.

I will be working with Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton and
Secretary Hosemann to make sure our Mississippi servicemen and women have
their right to vote protected back home.