'How' to vote

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
My fellow Texans went to the polls to cast their ballots in the Texas Primary March 4 - also the nation's first primary during the 2014 election cycle.

The election was also a first for me as I cast my ballot for my county from across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, I'd voted absentee before, mailing my ballot from my previous base in Florida and had even driven from there and back to Texas to cast a ballot for a local election in-person.

But what made this time special wasn't just the distance: I received my ballot via email. It turns out my county was among a handful in my state and across the country to try a new voting mechanism. After registering with the online voting website, I could download and print my ballot as well as envelopes denoting a secrecy ballot and a postage-paid return to my county office.

Pretty neat, I thought, and I soon got down to voting. Plus, I was able to contact my friendly elections administrator back in my county with any questions about the process.

After my ballot was received, my only complaint was that I couldn't sport a nifty "I Voted" sticker as if I had voted in person.

Despite the relative ease of this new voting process, I can understand why many people may not bother to vote or even register. More accurately, I understand the perceived "hassle" about the process - but not the part about not voting at all.

In fact, less than 13 percent of the more than 13 million registered voters in Texas decided to vote in any party primary that week. It's about half the number of those who will vote in the November midterm election, which is historically a significantly lower turnout than for presidential election years.

And perhaps saddest of all, the number is still lower when you factor in military members and their families who may PCS or deploy around the world. Plus, they may not always feel they are in tune with the matters facing their state of residence - many may not have even visited there in years.

So, as we're overseas Airmen and have already accepted the premise that 2014 - a midterm year - may experience lower turnout, I wanted to write this commentary to talk about how to vote.

No, I don't mean who or what to vote for. The most important element is that you do vote at all.

This is to describe the variety of ways service members and family overseas can vote in advance of the general election in November.

Vote in-person

Perhaps you think of Election Day as a long line of voters outside a polling station in your hometown. While this is a visible sign of our thriving democratic process, it's simply not feasible at military installations overseas. No voting office could support thousands of service members and family to vote especially within unique paper ballots from the country's more than 3,000 counties.

So, this option is only possible if you actually visit your stateside residence while there is an election. If this is so, be sure you are registered to vote before casting a ballot. Now, some states allow same-day registration, but it's a good suggestion to register as early as possible to prevent any hiccup you may not foresee.

While voting, some states require photo identification before casting a ballot. Your military or dependent ID will suffice, as will your stateside driver's license.

Some states, like Texas, also provide identification cards for the purpose of voting for those who may not have a license. Still, check your state's specific requirements to ensure your vote will be counted.

Vote through the mail

This method seems to be the one most associated with absentee voting. Here, a voter registers with their county office indicating they wish to receive ballots pertaining to national, state and/or local elections. They provide their current mailing address outside of the county and their current status, i.e. active-duty assigned overseas or a citizen living outside their district during the election.

There are also instructions for those who need assistance while they vote, for example, people who are elderly, disabled or blind. A person they designate as a witness may assist and sign accordingly during their vote.

Vote via fax

Facsimile machines may seem outdated by today's standards of facial recognizing-scanners or instantaneous status updates. Still, enough people use this method to justify keeping it an option.

In the simplest terms, the ballot is faxed to a person. They then complete it and fax it back. As always, check the machine to ensure it's working properly and save any confirmation page.

Vote via email

As I mentioned earlier, my example for this primary was the first opportunity I had to cast my ballot via a download. Check with your specific county's requirements or to see if they list this as an option.

The above items are by no means exhaustive or completely reflect all methods within my county, state or the country. Still, by knowing your options and using the calendar to your benefit, you can participate in your local elections

For more information about 'how' to vote, registering to vote, your state's specific rules on voting and a schedule of upcoming primaries, visit www.fvap.gov.