Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in Middle East to help remove election barriers for service men and women

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in Middle East to help remove election barriers for service men and women

LANSING, Mich. – Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is in the Middle East this week meeting with U.S. military men and women serving there to learn how to best ensure they can cast their votes with confidence back home.

“We must ensure that the men and women protecting this country by serving overseas can vote on Election Day,” Johnson said. “Not just in federal elections, but in local and state elections that really matter to them and their families back home.”

The week-long trip, hosted by the U.S. Navy and the Federal Voting Assistance Program, began Saturday and will include Kuwait and Qatar stops at military installations and U.S. embassies as well as shipboard visits.

Johnson, who shared her experiences by video on Skype, said she’s talked to brave men and women from all over Michigan. Johnson personally hauled nearly 50 pounds of gifts, including playing cards and American flags, to give to the troops.

One surprise during her trip was to hear the troops’ enthusiasm for ExpressSOS.com to access Secretary of State’s most-popular online services. She said they have used it to renew their driver’s licenses and access other services.

“We don’t like to get in the car and drive for 10 to 15 minutes and stand in line for 15 minutes,” Johnson said. “Just think when you’re over on this side of the world. They really appreciate our ExpressSOS.com.”

Johnson said she has so much pride in the U.S. military members and admires their hard work, sacrifice and commitment. They’re away from their families for months and live in harsh conditions, including temperatures as high as 120 degrees, high humidity and even sandstorms.

“They have tough conditions over here,” said Johnson. “They don’t complain.

“I don’t know how they do it,” Johnson added. “Many of them have volunteered to be here. They know it’s in our best interest nationally. They take great pride and they are true patriots.”

Johnson said the trip has only made her commitment to these men and women stronger, saying: “I can’t think of anybody more deserving than the people serving this country than to have their vote count.”

With Johnson on the trip were secretaries of state from Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Nevada.

Johnson has, since her days as Oakland County Clerk, been committed to ensuring that overseas military members and their families have the opportunity to participate in the very system they are protecting.

In 2009, as the Oakland County Clerk, she founded OPERATION: OUR TROOPS COUNT with the Wayne and Macomb county clerks. They successfully fought for changes in the law to give overseas voters more time to return their ballots to be counted on Election Day. How? By allowing ballots to be securely emailed to those voters, cutting mailing time in half. This also allowed local communities to save overseas mailing and postage costs.

Her belief is that overseas voters, especially our country’s military members, who put their lives on the line to protect America’s freedoms, must be able to participate in one of those most fundamental freedoms – voting – here at home.

Since becoming Michigan Secretary of State, Johnson has continued those efforts by:

  • Initiating, with Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, legislation signed by Gov. Snyder to ensure that overseas military could more easily vote on state and local issues, from local candidates to ballot questions.
  • Expanding use of an electronic ballot system that allows local clerks to securely and easily email ballots to overseas and military voters. Emailing ballots cuts traditional mailing time in half, saves postage and gives overseas voters more time to fill out and return their ballots.
  • Developing, with a $430,000 grant from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), software that allow election officials to electronically create, process and track ballots for all absentee voters and pay for communication to raise awareness of Michigan’s voter registration and absentee ballot options for military and overseas voters.
  • Pushing for new laws that will require local clerks who have the technology to participate in the state’s electronic absentee ballot tracker. This allows voters to go online, using a secure system, to see where their absentee ballot is in the process.
  • Initiating legislation that would extend counting deadlines for overseas/military voters in the event that local clerks fail to send out those absentee ballots in a timely manner.