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electionlineWeekly — September 27, 2012

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Getting them registered is just part of it
Two programs work with voters to get absentee ballots

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Voters across the country began heading to the polls (or mailbox) in a number of states this week as absentee and early voting kicked off for the 2012 presidential election.

According to the United States Election Project, in 2008 approximately 39.7 million (30 percent) of all votes were cast before Election Day. That was up from 20 percent in 2004.

Although there is no way to say what the early/absentee vote may be for this year, Paul Gronke, director of the Early Voting Center at Reed College predicts that by the time November 6 rolls at least one-third of all voters will have already cast their ballots.

In Florida, elections officials are encouraging voters to vote early or absentee due to an exceptionally long ballot and in Ohio, every resident received an absentee ballot application.

Still, even with the numbers of early/absentee voting growing each election, it’s not always an easy task for voters to find out how they may cast their absentee ballots.

Two new programs however are making it easier for Spanish-speaking and military & overseas voters to cast absentee ballots.

Voto Ausente USA
This year, the U.S. Vote Foundation and the Hispanic Communications Network (HCN) teamed up to create the Voto Ausente USA Spanish-language website aimed at voters in 12 states.

The site offers state-specific absentee voting information for the 12 states with the highest number of Spanish-speaking voters.

According to Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president and CEO of US Vote, there was a bit of serendipity involved with creating the site.

“I was in Puerto Rico attending the NASS Summer Conference and a call came in from the founder and chairman of HCN, Jeff Kline. He simply asked if we had considered making a Spanish-language version, and he offered his HCN resources to team up and make it happen,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. “That started it. I had been surrounded with Spanish-speaking American voters for the last four days, and was totally open to the idea. Just needed a push, which he provided. Then, when we looked at the Pew research, and the low Hispanic turnout issues, I was immediately keen on helping to improve the situation for these voters.”

The Pew numbers that Dzieduszycka-Suinat is referring to indicate that in 2008, only 49.9 percent of the eligible Latino voters cast ballots as opposed to 65.2 percent of eligible black voters.

Voto Ausente USA is similar to US Vote’s other sites including the Overseas Vote Foundation’s website which is geared toward military and overseas voters. Dzieduszycka-Suinat said because U.S. Vote’s site is not engineered for multiple languages, it was easier to create a separate site.

Although there are a number of jurisdictions with large Spanish-speaking populations (many falling under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act), Dzieduszycka-Suinat said that due to time limitations, the decision was made to focus on the 10-12 states with the largest Spanish-speaking populations figuring that the site will be available to about 75 percent of the population.

“We had limited time and resources,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat explained. “So we looked to the Census and quickly assessed that if we focused on the top 10-12 states with the highest Hispanic or percent Hispanic population we could likely reach 75 percent of the voters through only those states.”

Since the site launched earlier this month the US Vote and HCN have been working hard to get the word out to the affected markets.

“HCN is also running spots on their radio network of 254 Spanish language stations during the month of October promoting the website and encouraging Latinos to take advantage of the convenience of absentee voting,” said Maria Nape with HCN.

Nape said they will monitor the traffic to the site throughout the process to determine its effectiveness and make adjustments accordingly for future elections.

Our Mission Your Vote
Our Mission Your Vote is a consortium of 13 Florida counties working together to help military and overseas voters in the Sunshine State cast their absentee ballots with a one-stop website.

The 13 counties, which represent the majority of the state’s military installations, partnered with Democracy Live and Microsoft to provide a secure, state-of-the-art site to allow members of the military to download their absentee ballots.

The site is meant to make it easier and faster for military and overseas voters to case their ballots.

"We conduct absentee voting today just as we did during the civil war. We mail a soldier a ballot and hope he gets it. He votes and mails his ballot back and hopes we get it in time to count it,” Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections, Paul Lux told a local Fox affiliate.

The ballots can either be completed using an online ballot-marking wizard, or printed and filled out by hand. Once the ballots are complete, it is up to the voter to mail the ballot back. Voters can then subsequently track their ballots online to ensure that they were delivered to their county elections department in a timely fashion.

The program, which received initial state approval in late 2011 was first used during the primary and was spearheaded by Lux.

The coalition received a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Voting Assistance Program to create the site.

Counties participating in the program include Baker, Bay, Bradford, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Leon, Nassau, Okaloosa, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota and Wakulla.