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State to ship absentee ballots to military, overseas voters

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Hawaii will use FedEx and Express Mail to send absentee ballots to several hundred overseas and military voters for the Nov. 2 general election, under an agreement reached between the state and the U.S. Justice Department.

The state will pay for ballot deliveries and return postage, estimated at $3,000, said Rex Quidilla, Voter Services section head.

The agreement announced yesterday gives the state six additional days beyond a federal deadline to send absentee ballots to overseas and military voters.

Under a new federal law, states must send absentee ballots no later than 45 days before the general election. This year that deadline is today, the same day as Hawaii’s primary election — the latest in the nation.

The agreement allows Hawaii to send the absentee ballots by Friday. As of yesterday, the state Office of Elections had identified 208 eligible voters.

In addition to the federal deadline, the state deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 24 and the state will send ballots through that day.

In the 2008 general election, 827 overseas ballots were cast; in 2006 the state received 237 overseas ballots.

Military members and their dependents will be sent their absentee ballots by Express Mail while other local overseas residents will receive their ballots through FedEx.

A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command said there are 11,000 service members assigned to Hawaii who are deployed and eligible if they are registered voters here and have requested an absentee ballot.

Lt. Col. Daniel King said the Pacific Command "considers the right to vote a vital element of the U.S. Constitution that we, as service members have sworn to defend. Our units and leaders encourage service members to exercise their right to vote and to have that vote counted."

The agreement will bring the state in compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Act, a new federal law to ensure troops serving overseas and other U.S. citizens are able to vote.

The agreement was announced yesterday by state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Hawaii chief election officer Scott Nago.

All overseas ballots must still be received by Election Day on Nov. 2 to be counted in Hawaii.

Hawaii officials contended that the absentee ballot plan prepared by the Office of Elections provided more than enough time for overseas voters to receive and return their absentee ballots.

"While I continue to believe the Elections Office’s legal position was sound, the steps to which the state has agreed — which will help facilitate voting by our men and women in the military, and other overseas voters — are in the public interest," Bennett said.

In addition, election officials will have to contact voters to remind them of their option to receive their ballots by e-mail, and of a procedure by which voters may obtain, and also return, replacement ballots electronically within five days of the Nov. 2 election if the voter has not otherwise received his or her ballot.

In a written statement, Nago said: "I believe this is a fair resolution of this matter. I am glad we were able to work collaboratively with the DOJ and avoid litigation."

Beginning in 2012, Hawaii’s primary election will be held on the second Saturday in August to comply with federal law.

The Legislature considered an earlier primary election day for this year, but the idea was rejected because of fears of low voter turnout and complicating the primary election’s operations.

Polling stations are typically reserved two years in advance to ensure availability and accessibility, and moving up the date this year would have affected training for poll workers, elections officials said.

However, the proposal was amended and in 2012 the primary will be moved up.

Wisconsin, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands were denied waivers to the 45-day deadline this year.


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