Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) announced that they will introduce legislation to expand access to voting for military and overseas voters that both streamlines the process and ensures that errors or delays in ballot distribution can be corrected in time for service members and civilians living overseas to vote. The Safeguarding Elections for our Nation's Troops through Reforms and Improvements Act ("The SENTRI Act") makes critical adjustments to the implementation of the senators' 2010 MOVE Act that dramatically improved access to military voting.
"The men and women who put their lives on the line so that we have the right to vote should not be denied that right themselves," said Schumer. "Our legislation makes important improvements and adjustments to military voting assistance protocols to ensure that all of our soldiers, even those serving at remote outposts around the globe, can participate in the democracy they fight to protect. I'm hopeful it will gain wide bipartisan support and pass the Senate this year."
"For far too long in this country, we have failed to adequately protect the right of our troops and their families to participate in our democratic process," said Cornyn. "These brave Americans put their lives on the line for our democracy, so the least Congress can do is ensure that both the Defense Department and the states do everything possible to safeguard their voting rights."
The legislation would take two critical steps in order to ensure that states send out absentee ballots to troops and their family members at least 45 days before Election Day, as mandated in the MOVE Act.
First the states would be required, both before and after the 45-day mark to report on their compliance in sending out ballots on time. In the event that a state misses the pre-election deadline, that state would be required to express-mail the ballots out to troops and, in extreme cases, provide for the troops to express-mail the ballots back after they have been marked.
Second, the senators' bill would repeal the MOVE Act provision that permitted states to seek waivers from the 45-day pre-election requirement for sending out ballots to troops and their family members. Three years after passage of the MOVE Act, the hardship waiver provision is no longer needed.
The SENTRI Act also requires the Department of Defense to reform its on-base voter assistance program to ensure that troops and their families receive the same level of voting assistance under the National Voter Registration Act that their civilian counterparts receive at locations such as state DMV offices.
The Senators today said they hoped to offer the legislation as an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. Schumer and Cornyn were the authors of the MOVE Act that they introduced after a 2008 survey released by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military and overseas voters went uncounted in that year's presidential election.
The MOVE Act addressed several of the flaws responsible for such widespread disenfranchisement. Among other provisions, it requires that all states provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days prior to the election, so that they have adequate time to complete and return them. The bill also required states to provide ballots electronically. Additionally, it enhanced the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the Department of Defense, which is the main source of election-related information and assistance for many members of the military.