Remove needless obstacles

U.S. soldiers serving in remote parts of Afghanistan or Iraq have plenty to worry about. Whether they can get their election ballot to a mailbox in time for it to be counted shouldn’t even have to cross their mind.

Current state law allows military and other overseas voters to submit their ballot by fax or e-mail, but their vote only counts if the signed, original ballot documents are also received by regular mail before the election is certified. The convenience of voting by fax or e-mail is rendered meaningless by the snail-mail requirement.

A bill requested by Secretary of State Sam Reed, and prime-sponsored by Iraq War veteran Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), would solve that problem. Under Senate Bill 6238, getting a signed ballot to election officials via fax, e-mail or other acceptable electronic means by election day will be enough.

A companion bill in the House passed unanimously last month, and the Senate version could get a floor vote Friday.

Most overseas voters take their responsibility seriously. In the 2008 general election, 73 percent of the 67,500 overseas ballots sent from Washington were returned, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Snohomish County typically sends out about 2,100 overseas ballots, county Auditor Carolyn Weikel said.

Weikel points out that this is not an institution of “Internet voting” — casting a ballot by computer via a central Web site — but a common-sense way to make sending in a ballot more convenient for those serving or working abroad. In some cases, as when a soldier is in transit, it’s the only way to make voting possible. Twenty other states have already adopted it.

Ballots sent in by fax or e-mail would still have to include the voter’s signature, which would be verified by election officials. Voters sending their ballot by e-mail would have to scan their signature and attach it to the e-mail. The measure requires county auditors to come up with procedures for protecting the secrecy of such ballots.

It also would bring the state in line with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires that such voters be allowed to designate how they want to receive their ballots, by mail or electronically. And it will give overseas voters the information they need to contact their county auditor to confirm that their ballot has been received.

The Senate should follow the House’s lead and send a clear message to those serving our nation abroad: You make enough sacrifices for us. Your right to vote won’t be one of them.