Letter to State
January 30, 2003
Dear State Legislator,
I am writing to
you because, as a member of the Elections
committee, you are in a unique position to help our soldiers
and sailors overseas that are fighting to protect freedom. By
state's absentee voting procedures, you can ensure that every
soldier can vote in every election. These reforms will also protect
states from potential federal lawsuits under the Uniformed and
Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Because of the
logistics of election administration, many military personnel are
unable to vote in primary runoff elections because the window
between the primary and the runoff is simply too small. Election
administrators work hard to calculate the results of the primary and
send out the runoff ballots, but for overseas voters the time it
takes to mail back these ballots is too small.
This problem can
expose states to federal court challenges. The U.S. Department of
Justice has brought more than 20 UOCAVA enforcement suits. Most
recently, the certification of the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in
Oklahoma was delayed due to such a suit.
How can we
ensure that our military overseas voters can participate in runoff
elections and avoid costly litigation? Louisiana has come up with an
innovative program: a special ballot for overseas voters called
instant runoff voting. And I hope you’ll consider introducing a bill
setting up instant runoff voting for overseas absentee voters so
that we won’t unintentionally disenfranchise members of the armed
services stationed overseas.
Here’s how it
works. Instead of sending the primary ballot a few weeks before the
primary election, and then sending a runoff ballot overseas after
the primary with the names of the two candidates on the runoff
ballot, Louisiana sends two ballots. The first is the regular
primary ballot and the second is a “provisional” ballot that allows
voters to rank all the candidates in the primary.
On primary day,
election administrators tally the primary absentee-ballot totals.
Then in the event of a runoff, they open the “provisional”
preference ballot. Of the two runoff candidates, the one who
received the higher ranking gets the vote. In other words, if the
first-choice candidate didn’t make it to the runoff, then we look at
the second-choice candidate. If that one made it to the runoff, he
gets the vote. If not, we look to the third-choice candidate.
find the language from the Louisiana statute that created these
special ballots for overseas voters, as well as a copy of an actual
sample ballot used in Louisiana.
The Center for
Voting and Democracy is a non-partisan, non-profit organization
based outside of Washington, D.C. We would be happy to provide any
assistance to you if you are interested in instant runoff voting in
General Counsel, Dan Johnson-Weinberger, can be reached at
312.587.7060 or via email at [email protected] and he would be
happy to help with any draft legislation. Policy Associate John
Russell or I can be reached in our national office at