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10 Sept 2020

Voting: Overcoming barriers to military spouse election engagement

The next presidential election is right around the corner, sparking an increased interest among citizens to exercise their right to vote. But for military families, voting isn’t as easy as walking up to the polls and casting a ballot – there are many barriers to voting for military-connected citizens. In fact, a national study found that spouses of active duty Service members were 21% less likely to vote when compared to their civilian peers, and this was noted at multiple levels of elections including local, state, and federal. This article will explore why military spouses participate less in elections, barriers to voting among military spouses, and the resources and tips available to facilitate the voting process.

To Vote or not to Vote?

This is a serious question that most U.S. citizens may ask themselves. In a recent national study of 2,000 military-connected individuals, military spouses identified their specific reasons for abstaining from voting. These reasons included simply not wanting to vote, feeling that their vote did not matter, and not knowing how to obtain an absentee ballot. Some military spouses reported feeling discouraged about voting because they perceived that casting a ballot online or sending an absentee ballot in the mail lacked safety and reliability. Additionally, only 27% of spouses reported that they felt encouraged to vote by the Department of Defense, whereas 70% of active duty Service members reported receiving this encouragement. Thus, it is understandable that many spouses choose not to participate in voting, but for those who do, there are many challenges to navigate.

Voting Barriers for Military Spouses

As mentioned above, there are multiple challenges facing military spouses who want to participate in voting. Here are just a few of the barriers they face in that process:

  • Living away from declared residency: Many military families are stationed far from the state of their declared permanent residency – sometimes a state away, and sometimes on another continent entirely. This proves challenging for submitting absentee ballots across both state and international lines.
  • Not enough time: Because absentee ballots must travel to the appropriate district prior to the elections, some ballots may not arrive to election officials in time to be counted.
  • Lack of knowledge about the absentee process: Some spouses are unaware of how to receive and then send off an absentee ballot from their current location.
  • Few resources tailored to spouses: Many military installations facilitate the voting process for active duty Service members with voting assistance programs, but do not offer the same services to military spouses.
Resources Available to Encourage Military Spouses to Vote

So, knowing the challenge ahead, what can military spouses do to prepare themselves for the upcoming elections?

  • First and foremost, register to vote with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which also provides additional resources for registration specific to military voters.
  • Start early: The Department of Defense and Federal Voting Assistance Program provide voting information organized by state, as well as information for overseas voters. Determine exactly what voting policies are in place in your residence state before the election begins to ensure you can send out an absentee ballot with plenty of time for it to be delivered to election officials.
  • Keep up with election dates: Various election periods occur throughout the year, so consider scheduling election reminders. You can find websites online that offer free election reminder subscriptions, like www.Vote.org.
  • Educate yourself, then educate others: Sharing is caring, and this is especially true when it comes to making sure that your peers are educated on the election process. Consider advocating for a campaign at your military installation to provide useful information on and resources related to voting for military spouses.

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