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With the U.S. midterm elections fast approaching, many Americans living overseas or serving in the military are asking themselves the same question: Will I get my absentee ballot in time? Hundreds of thousands of ballots requested by military and overseas voters two years ago were never returned or counted. That's because many of those voters simply didn't get their ballots in time.
Well, a new law this year appears to be turning things around, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER: Retired Texan Lanny Marcus has lived in Columbia, South America for 15 years.�But he still feels strongly about voting back home.�So every election, when he requests an absentee ballot, he keeps his fingers crossed.�Will he get the ballot on time?�Too often, as in his state's primary this past March, the answer is no.
Mr. LANNY MARCUS: I never got it.�Usually they come a few days before or after the election,�but that one never came.
FESSLER: So imagine his surprise when he got a message the other day from his county election office in Texas.
Mr. MARCUS: When I went to my email, I couldn't believe it.�There was my - the first time in my life, absentee ballot by email.
FESSLER: And he got it a month and a half before the November election. Hundreds of thousands of Americans in the military or living abroad are getting similar surprises.�Congress last year passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires states to send these voters their ballots at least 45 days before the election.�Randall Dillard is a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state's office.
Mr. RANDALL DILLARD (Spokesman, Secretary of State office, Texas): There's also a process that allows them to track first their request to receive the ballot electronically, and two, to track the process of the ballot being returned and received by the county election official in their home county.
FESSLER: So voters like Lanny Marcus don't have to guess whether their vote has been counted.�That's a huge change for millions of Americans abroad or in the military, who for years were often precluded from voting by mail delays and confusing rules.�By comparison, in one Texas county this year, election officials got voted ballots back from U.S. soldiers in Korea, only four days after the county sent the ballots out.
Ms. SUSAN DZIEDUSZYCKA-SUINAT (Overseas Vote Foundation): Really, the entire landscape of U.S. overseas and military voting has transformed.
FESSLER: Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat runs�the Overseas Vote Foundation, a group�dedicated to easing the process.�This year, she couldn't be happier. She lives in Germany and got her ballot from California in early September. And she's already sent it back in, taking advantage of a special service available to U.S. overseas voters.
Ms. DZIEDUSZYCKA-SUINAT: This program allowed me to go online, pay $25 U.S. dollars to get a FedEx�guy to my door in 45 minutes who took my ballot and it arrived in California the next day.�
FESSLER: But the process has had some hiccups.�Several states, especially those with late primaries, have struggled to meet the 45-day deadline.�Bob Carey, who heads the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program, says Maryland even sent out ballots that included two scenarios because of an unresolved Republican primary.
MR. BOB CAREY (Federal Voting Assistance Program): Telling the voter to vote for one candidate in each one of those.�So if Republican candidate number one won the primary, choose your candidate from that list. If Republican candidate number two won the primary, choose your candidate from that list.
FESSLER: Although that's not sitting too well with at least one military voter advocacy group, which has filed suit against the state.�Still, Carey says it appears that most states got the ballots out on time. And he notes that while many overseas voters have to send back an actual paper ballot, some states are allowing them to be returned by fax or email.
Mr. CAREY: We're really hoping that this reliance and this leveraging of the technology that's available will really help us speed up this process.
FESSLER: A few election offices are even experimenting with online voting, although that has some groups concerned about ballot security. The Overseas Vote Foundation is recommending that anyone who sends their votes electronically also send a backup paper copy, just to be safe.�
Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.�
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