A new executive order signed by President Joe Biden and designed to expand voting rights requires the Pentagon to better track absentee and military ballots from overseas.
Biden's order, issued Sunday, comes as a voter rights and campaign finance bill passed the House last week in a 220-210 vote, with no support from Republicans. The legislation, H.R. 1, the "For The People Act," faces obstacles in the Senate, where Republicans must join Democrats for legislation to be approved.
Biden has urged the Senate to approve the legislation but used his authority as president to direct federal agencies to create strategies for promoting voter participation, including encouraging -- via the agencies' websites and social media accounts -- people to register to vote.
The order also calls for revamping the government's voting information website, Vote.gov, within 200 days.
For military personnel stationed around the world, the Defense Department will be required to work with the State Department, Military Postal Service Agency and the U.S. Postal Service to establish an "end-to-end tracking system" for all absentee ballots cast by military personnel and Americans living overseas.
The order also requires the DoD to offer each active-duty service member annually the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections, update their voter registration or request an absentee ballot.
Biden said Sunday the action is needed to safeguard democracy following the challenges to the presidential election in 2020 and the assault on the Capitol Jan. 6 that attempted to disrupt the process for certifying the Electoral College votes.
Military absentee votes were among those challenged in the numerous lawsuits following the election.
"In 2020 -- our very democracy on the line even in the midst of a pandemic -- more Americans voted than ever before. Multiple recounts in states and decisions in more than 60 courts -- from judges appointed by my predecessor, including at the Supreme Court -- upheld the integrity of this historic election," Biden said during a breakfast to commemorate the anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 -- an event that served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act.
"Yet instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting -- we have seen an unprecedented insurrection in our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people," he said.
Following the 2020 presidential election, representatives for President Donald Trump filed numerous lawsuits in several states alleging voter fraud and challenging the legitimacy of ballots, including some military absentee ballots.
In Nevada, Trump campaign representatives alleged that more than 3,000 ballots were improperly cast in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and Nellis Air Force Base. But many of the ballots came from military post offices overseas, as well as more than 1,000 domestic locations where military personnel are stationed.
By law, military voters may vote absentee in their home of record or choose to register to vote in the state in which they reside.
Service members living outside their home states and U.S. citizens stationed abroad can register to vote and request an absentee ballot through the Federal Voting Assistance Program's website at FVAP.gov.
According to the FVAP's 2018 post-election report to Congress, the DoD sent 655,409 absentee ballots to personnel serving abroad and more than half, or 344,392, were returned, a rate comparable to the overall percentage of Americans who voted in the midterm elections.
But just 26% of the total were from active-duty service members -- a gap that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said during the 2020 presidential campaign could be related to perceptions by personnel that their votes aren't considered unless an election is close.
"At a minimum, we need to do more to instill confidence in our election system for our overseas military members," she said in a letter to FVAP Director David Beirne.
About 46 percent of the 1.3 million active-duty members, or nearly 600,000 personnel, voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to FVAP. About 75%, or nearly 450,000, voted absentee.
The Biden executive order is designed to improve access to voter registration and ballots and reduce barriers to voting for groups including Blacks, Native Americans and those with disabilities.
The White House release described the executive order as an "initial step in this administration's efforts to protect the right to vote and ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process."
"Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have it counted," Biden said. "If you have the best ideas -- you have nothing to hide. Let more people vote."
Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.