Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Debra Bowen visits Iraq to scope out military voting

California's top elections official barnstormed Baghdad on Tuesday, meeting with service members and military authorities on how best to make sure everyone can vote in November's general election.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she and the secretaries of state of Florida, Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania had arrived in Kuwait on Monday and met with voting-assistance officers there before boarding a C-130 aircraft to Baghdad on Tuesday morning.

There, they met more such officers plus service members from their states and a mail-processing facility giving special priority to military voter registration applications and ballots.

Their Pentagon-funded, first-of-its-kind mission was "to learn how we can work better with the military to make voting easier for our military and overseas voters in future elections," Bowen said in a conference call with reporters after returning to Kuwait. "Communication is always a challenge, just the amount of time it takes to move mail, though from what I can tell that's been significantly better this year."

Bowen said some service members she met feel frustrated at having to send their ballots in so early in order to avoid a mail delay, but she still believes "we will probably see a good turnout among military and overseas voters this year."

Data from Bowen's office shows that as of Sept. 25, California had almost 72,000 military or other overseas voters who could cast ballots. Alameda AdvertisementCounty's number ranks fourth in the state behind Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco; Santa Clara comes in fifth, San Mateo ninth and Contra Costa 10th. The East Bay's number of citizens living overseas far exceeds its number of military personnel.

California service members and citizens living overseas can register to vote and request a vote-by-mail ballot with a single form, the Federal Post Card Application, available through military voting assistance officers, U.S. embassies and consulates and online at State law also allows citizens to register, request a ballot and vote by faxing their county elections offices.

Bowen said Tuesday she's proud that California was among the first states to mail ballots to its military personnel this year; some already are mailing and faxing them back, while some other states are just now having ballots printed.

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