Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Are Military Spouses Voting In Midterm Elections?

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Attack ads are on your screen and political yard signs are lining the front yards and along the highways. On November 6th, Americans are set to go to the polls or have already sent in their absentee ballot.

After sending in my absentee ballot, I wondered how many spouses decide to vote in these local and state elections? If military families move so often, do they still feel inclined to vote in the midterm elections?

Military families have a unique view of government and elections. They are less likely to have put roots down in a place but their spouses' job is directly affected by the outcomes of these elections. There are frequent moves, state-specific rules on absentee ballots, registration deadlines, and so much more than can hinder a military member and their spouse from voting.

With those obstacles in mind, I wondered how many spouses go to the polls or mail in an absentee ballot?

I created a survey, shared it on military spouse Facebook groups, and received 126 anonymous responses.

Here are some key findings from that survey:

87% of spouses surveyed are registered to vote

73% of spouses surveyed plan to vote in the 2018 midterm election

On a scale of 1-10 spouses rated the importance of voting in midterms an average of 8  

I asked "Do you think your vote matters as a military spouse, why or why not?

Many people responded along the lines of, "My voice matters no matter what my spouse does."

Amen to that.

However, I also heard from those who were not voting in the election felt that their vote did not matter. They especially felt this way if they were voting using an absentee ballot.

According to TIME Magazine, over 319,000 ballots were rejected during the 2016 presidential election. While the reasons varied, many felt that the paperwork made it easy to make an error. Some states will also not notify people of these errors in time for them to redo the ballot. Thus, those who tried to do their civic duty from afar were simply out of luck.

The second most common response I found was, "I don't think I'm informed enough on local issues to vote. I'm only here for a short amount of time."

I used to think this way. I didn't feel that my vote mattered at all.

In recent years, many Americans have chosen to vote in presidential elections and not vote in state and local elections. According to FairVote.org, the United States has a lower voter turnout than most democratic countries. Only about 40% of those eligible to vote in state and local elections do so.

We often forget that the members of Congress are from all different states. Important laws can be passed or rejected by just a few votes from senators you may have never heard of. In my opinion, Congress many more decisions that directly affect my life than the president does.

Just because you haven't lived in an area for "long enough," does not make your vote any less valid. If anything, looking at local politics with fresh eyes and a different perspective should be welcomed.

So what happens if you are a military spouse who wants to vote, but don't know where to start?

Military members and their families are encouraged to take advantage of FVAP (Federal Voting Assistance Program). The common misconception is that it is only open to the military member. FVAP provides voting guidance and resources on a state by state basis to service members, their families and US citizens living overseas.

They can help you attain an absentee ballot, request a backup ballot, find the installation voting office near you and much much more! Yes, they do help those that are stationed internationally.

What is the biggest takeaway I have from this survey? That spouses view voting as their duty as an American citizen, not necessarily as a military spouse. Their voices matter. Their opinions matter. Just as much as anyone who goes the ballots on November 6th.

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