American Citizens Abroad (ACA) Vigorously Endorses Two New Voting Rights Bills for Americans Overseas

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On November 15th, 2007, two bills were introduced in the House to facilitate voting in US elections by Americans living overseas. The bills were introduced by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Mike Honda (D-NY), both members of the Americans Abroad Caucus in the House.

November 15, 2007, Geneva, Switzerland: For American Citizens Abroad and for all Americans residing overseas, the 15th of November 2007 will be remembered as a milestone on the path to safeguarding and improving voting rights of Americans overseas. Two bills were introduced in the House by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Mike Honda (D-NY) to improve the outreach to American overseas voters as well as to facilitate voting procedures, prevent ballot refusals through nonessential requirements and enfranchise certain Americans overseas who were not uniformly permitted to vote up to now. Both bills are proposed as amendments to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which regulates absentee voting in federal elections of both military personnel and overseas civilians.

ACA congratulates Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Honda, both members of the OVERSEAS Vote Act (H.R. 4173) and Rep. Maloney's (D-NY) Overseas Voting Practical Amendments Act of 2007 (H.R. 4237).

These amendments are greatly needed, as a recent report by the Election Assistance Commission highlighted data on the low participation of overseas voters in the 2006 election. Less than 16.5% of the estimated 6 million civilian and military voters requested a ballot. A high percentage of ballots mailed to overseas addresses were returned to local election offices undelivered. Only 5.5% of the eligible UOCAVA voters actually cast a ballot, and of these, 23% were not counted due to delays.

"Right now, far too many overseas Americans - including many of the brave men and women serving in our military - are being disenfranchised by a tangle of bureaucratic red tape. We have a responsibility to make it as easy as possible for all patriotic, tax-paying Americans to vote," said Representative Maloney. Representative Honda stated, "Voting is a sacred right that should be made available to all our fellow citizens. If there isn't adequate infrastructure to outreach and educate overseas citizens, let's build one. If people don't know their rights, or get lost in this complicated process, let's help them." ACA endorses both statements.

Both bills would ban states from requiring witnessing or notarization of ballot return envelopes for military and overseas voters, and would extend voting rights to American-citizen children born overseas who may have not lived long enough to establish residency in the United States, permitting them to use the voting residence address of their American parent/s. "These two measures respond to key objectives of all organizations representing Americans overseas," said Andy Sundberg, founder and director of ACA.

The Maloney bill builds on a number of "lessons-learned" in recent voting to adjust UOCAVA so as to stop the effective disenfranchisement which occurs through cumbersome and confusing procedures. It prohibits election officials to refuse applications, ballots and other materials for failure to meet nonessential requirements, such as size or weight of paper or envelopes, and establishes clear rules for transmission of ballots.

The Honda bill eliminates the application for a state absentee ballot as a condition for casting a federal write-in absentee ballot. Its primarily emphasis, however, is on outreach and education of overseas voters, through creation of a $5 million competitive grant for nonpartisan organizations to conduct outreach and provide information and assistance to overseas civilian citizens. It further requires the Secretary of State to ensure that passports include a page describing the voting rights of overseas Americans

"ACA supports with enthusiasm both the OVERSEAS Vote Act and the Overseas Voting Practical Amendments Act of 2007 and urges overseas Americans to manifest their support to their Congressional representative," said Dorothy van Schooneveld, ACA executive committee member. "These bills provide practical realistic solutions to significant problems related to voting from abroad. ACA further applauds the innovative approach to outreach and education of overseas voters."

American Citizens Abroad (http://www.aca.ch) is a non-profit, non-partisan, nongovernmental association, based in Geneva, Switzerland, dedicated to serving and defending the interests of individual US citizens living worldwide.

Contact: Jackie Bugnion, ACA Executive Committee Member, info.aca @ gmail.com

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