The U.S. Senate Rules Committee has passed a bill aimed at strengthening voting protections for military members. The Safeguarding Elections for our Nation's Troops through Reforms and Improvements (SENTRI) Act is co-sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Upon its passage out of committee this week, Senator Cornyn released a statement urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to "immediately" bring the bill before the full Senate. "The 2012 election made clear that there are still too many barriers to military service members and their families having their votes counted," Cornyn wrote in his statement. "These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and the least we can do is ensure that everything possible is being done to safeguard their voting rights."
The SENTRI Act would require states to send out absentee ballots to troops and their families at least 46 days before Election Day, and require the Defense Department to provide voter assistance to service members as a routine part of their annual training. Retired Maj.Gen. Bill McClain tells KTRH that he voted for years as an active duty military member. "You've got to send in a request for an absentee ballot, and then you have to get it back and then file it," he says. However, in recent years there have been problems with some of those absentee ballots. "There were some locales that just didn't send them out in time to get to the folks to where they could fill them out and get them back to the local vote place in time," says McClain.
Overall, Gen. McClain is pleased with the effort to ensure protections for military voting. "In the past in trying to get these ballots out in time to people, there really weren't any teeth in (the law) to make that happen," he says. But beyond simply getting ballots to troops, McClain agrees that educating them about voting is equally important. "Throughout my years in the military that was something that was always emphasized, for people to understand you had a right to vote, and how to do it."