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Fort Drum helps soldiers process their absentee ballot paperwork

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FORT DRUM — Weeks before the Nov. 6 general elections, post and unit leaders are ensuring that soldiers have put in the appropriate paperwork so they can send in their absentee ballots.

“We want to make sure all of our citizens, including our soldiers, have every opportunity they have to get to vote,” said James A. Swords, the post’s directorate of human resources and voting assistance officer.

Mr. Swords said soldiers have a variety of outlets to file the appropriate paperwork.

Each of the post’s units has a voting assistance officer who is tasked by the Department of the Army to contact each soldier in their unit and offer them information about the voting process and what they will need to do to submit a ballot in their home state.

1st Lt. Anthony M. Nash, executive officer of the Bravo Battery, 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said he volunteered to serve as his battery’s voting assistance officer to ensure his fellow soldiers are aware of the rights they serve for. Since taking the role, he said he has directly helped 30 of the battery’s 99 soldiers, from a widespread collection of states, put together their paperwork.

Aiding Lt. Nash in this work are the Federal Voting Assistance Program and its website, www.fvap.gov.

In addition to helping fellow soldiers register, Lt. Nash said he also has pointed them to resources that could enable them to develop their own political views.

“What good does it do to have a soldier that’s good in the field, but not aware of the day-to-day questions that are affecting the average people?” he said.

The post operates its own voting assistance office in Clark Hall, which has become popular for family members.

The office has seen increased foot traffic in recent months due to its proximity to the area where soldiers and their families have their military identification cards processed. Mr. Swords, who compared the set-up to registering to vote at a DMV, said about 200 federal absentee ballot forms have been distributed from the center in recent months.

Rules enacted since the last general elections — particularly the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which passed in 2009 — have led to some confusion.

In September, Jefferson County voting officials voiced frustration over segmented primary dates that led to the mailing of two separate absentee ballots to the 158 military service members stationed outside the county — one for local and state elections and one for federal elections.

The Army Times reported Friday that a letter from Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, R-Calif., and Rep. Lamar S. Smith, R-Texas, to the Justice and Defense departments claimed that jurisdictions in Vermont, Michigan, Mississippi and Wisconsin failed to mail absentee ballots by the Sept. 22 deadline, set 45 days before the election. The Justice Department on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont for not meeting the mailing deadline.

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