MASON, Mich. — Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) has been appointed to the Overseas Voting Initiative, a collaboration of federal, state and local election officials tasked with ensuring the right to vote is protected for military personnel who are serving abroad and other overseas voters.
“The right to vote is crucial to the strength of our democracy,” stated Byrum. “Military and overseas voters should be afforded every opportunity to cast their ballots as those who are stateside. I am grateful for the opportunity to advocate for the interests of Michigan voters as we delve into this important voting rights issue.”
The Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) is a joint effort by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which works to ensure members of the military, their family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully cast their ballot, and the Council of State Governments, a nonpartisan organization of state governments that serves as a trusted resource for best practices and policy expertise.
This week, Byrum traveled to San Diego, California to attend her first OVI meeting. Byrum met with service members at Naval Base San Diego who were training to be shipped out abroad or across the country. Byrum also met with election officials from across the country to work out election issues, which include logistical challenges service members face in order to vote, implementation of federal and state overseas voting laws, and data standardization.
On logistics, Byrum observed, “Michigan law permits emailing ballots to our service members, however those ballots must be printed, mailed, and received before the polls close. Service members often do not have adequate access to technology to print their ballots. A speedy mail service cannot always be guaranteed either. When I toured the USS America (LHA-6), I learned if a naval vessel is deployed, mail is generally only transferred off ship every two weeks. I was also told of an incident were a pallet of mail was accidentally dropped in the ocean. Michigan needs to amend the law to mitigate some of these challenges, including allowing for the electronic return of military ballots.”
According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, in the November 2016 Presidential Election, 16,775 ballots were cast by military and overseas voters from Michigan. In comparison, 671,243 ballots were cast by military and overseas voters nationwide.
Reflecting on her visit with service members, Byrum stated, “Many are serving abroad to protect this country, and they should have every opportunity to cast their ballot. Distance should not dissuade someone from exercising their right to vote in the community they are serving to protect.”
For more information, call (517) 676-7204.