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Overseas residents, military personnel can vote by email

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For some voters living hundreds or thousands of miles away, casting their ballots could be as easy as clicking “send.”

Voters who serve in the military or live overseas are allowed to cast ballots via email under federal legislation that allows residents to vote electronically.

Electronic voting by fax or email has been available to voters in Indiana since 2005 but was made mandatory nationwide in 2010 with the Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act, said Dale Simmons, co-general counsel with the Indiana Election Division.

This year, county voting officials noticed an increase in the number of voters who want to email their ballots.

As of Friday, the Johnson County Voter Registration Office had sent 86 ballots by email to residents living overseas and received 40 back, deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.

In the 2010 countywide election, the county office received 10 email votes, she said.

Higdon said email voting is an option for active members of the military and their family members, as well as U.S. citizens who are studying or living overseas.

The option is becoming more popular for voters overseas because they can receive and return their ballots in the same day, compared with mailing them, which can take weeks. Election officials expect the number of voters casting ballots via email to continue to increase, as people have more access to technology.

The new option did require the state election division to create procedures to ensure the ballots are not tampered with, including making sure counties have a secure email address and double-checking the signatures of voters who request and cast email ballots, Higdon said.

Before they are allowed to email in their votes, people living overseas must get ballots through the mail or via fax, Higdon said.

Mailing paper ballots can take four to six weeks for someone who lives in France or Afghanistan, which means residents have to request them as soon as absentee voting is available so they don’t miss the deadline for returning them, she said, adding that faxing ballots is less common because few military bases and residents have fax machines.

Both options are available, but Higdon said emailing ballots has made voting more convenient for residents overseas.

To receive a ballot via email, residents who live overseas have to request and fill out an application through the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website, fvap.gov, Higdon said. Once the application is approved, the county voter registration office will send a ballot as an email attachment.

Voters then print off the ballot, mark the candidates they want to vote for, scan it into a computer and send it by email back to the county voter registration office, Higdon said.

At the county office, deputy clerks compare the signature on the voter’s application for a ballot to the signature on the ballot to make sure the voter is the one who filled out the ballot, Higdon said.

If the signatures are not the same or if something else looks off, Higdon said the deputy clerks will call the voter to make sure everything is correct. For example, deputy clerks in the office have seen people try to use electronic signatures, or signature fonts on the computer, to sign the ballots.

“We’re not stupid. We notice when things aren’t right,” Higdon said.

The voter registration office cannot scan the ballots sent by email, so Republican and Democrat election board members re-mark the emailed ballots on ballots that can be scanned, Higdon said.

Next, other voter registration office workers double-check the ballots to make sure the votes were marked correctly, Higdon said.

Residents who live overseas can request absentee ballot applications until Monday, Higdon said. The ballots must be returned to the office by Election Day, which is Nov. 6.

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