Texas could face legal action if it doesn't comply with new federal regulations for voters overseas, a representative for the U.S. Department of Defense told the House Subcommittee on Military and Overseas Voting today.
"The key is to get the ballots in the hands of the voters as early as possible," said Scott Wiedmann, deputy director of the DOD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Last year, President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The new law says states must provide ballot access, either electronically or by mail, for overseas voters at least 45 days before any general, special, primary or runoff election for federal office. States also have to create tracking systems so voters can verify when local election officials receive their ballots.
Ret. Navy Rear Admiral James Carey, who now works for the Pew Center on the States advocating for easier ballot access for military men and women, said he sees the MOVE Act as validation of his career-long effort to improve the electoral process for Americans stationed overseas. "I’m very excited that Texas is making some fixes and that the federal government is making some fixes," he told the committee.
Texas is making progress, but still is adjusting to the new voting law, said Elizabeth Winn, who works in the Texas Secretary of State's elections division. Among the challenges ahead, she told the committee, is that Texas may have to push back the filiing date for primary election candidates to comply with the new requirement that overseas voters get their ballots within 45 days of the election.
Morgan Little, chairman of the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations, brought up another obstacle for Texas: Its size. Texas has 254 counties — more than any other state — which also means that Texas has hundreds of different voting jurisdictions that have to get in line with the MOVE Act.
“I strongly urge that we make absentee voting as easy as it is for us at home as it is for members of our military," said Little, a retired Navy veteran. "There is no reason not to.”