WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- In October 2002, as in November 2000, the attention of the United States has been drawn to military absentee voters. But this time, the scene of the action is New Jersey, not Florida.
In each presidential election, about 200,000 military personnel who try to vote are unable to do so, because they receive their absentee ballots too late or not at all.
Because of late primaries, lawsuits about redistricting and ballot access, and other problems, some local election officials do not have absentee ballots printed and ready to mail until just a few days before elections.
There are three time-consuming steps in the absentee voting process.
First, the absentee ballot request must travel from the voter to the election official.
Second, the unmarked absentee ballot must travel from the election official to the voter.
Third, the marked absentee ballot must travel from the voter to the election official.
For military personnel serving at sea or at isolated overseas duty stations, each of these steps can take weeks, so long as the states insist on the use of "snail mail" (as most still do). The Department of Defense has asked the states to provide at least 45 days of round-trip ballot transmission time.
New Jersey's law formerly provided that absentee ballots were to be mailed not earlier than 25 days before the election. About 15 years ago, this provision was changed to not later than 45 days before the election.
Most New Jersey counties started mailing out absentee ballots on or about Sept. 21, 2002.
Those ballots included the U.S. House of Representatives and some county offices, as well as the U.S. Senate.
For the Senate, the candidates on those absentee ballots were Torricelli for the Democrats and Douglas Forrester for the Republicans. Some of those ballots have already been marked and placed in the return mail. Military voters are urged to mark and return their absentee ballots immediately upon receipt, to ensure timely receipt and counting of the marked ballots.
In New Jersey and most other states, the deadline for the receipt, not just postmark, of a mailed-in absentee ballot is the close of the polls on Election Day.
New Jersey law clearly provides that the deadline for a candidate to withdraw is the 51st day prior to the election, and the deadline for a political party to replace a withdrawn candidate is the 48th day prior to the election.
These deadlines were enacted to ensure the timely mailing of absentee ballots, so that military personnel will be able to vote no matter where the service of our country has taken them.
It seems clear that the Democratic Party's leaders waited too long to confront Torricelli with "an offer you cannot refuse." The New Jersey Senate election should proceed with Torricelli's name on the ballot, despite his belated attempt to withdraw.
Even though the New Jersey Supreme Court has permitted the substitution, their decision should not be permitted to disenfranchise the brave young men and women from New Jersey who serve in our armed forces.
New absentee ballots for the Senate only should be mailed or otherwise transmitted to the absentee voters. If the replacement ballot comes back marked by Election Day, that ballot should be counted for the Senate. Otherwise, the first ballot should be counted for all offices, including the Senate.
If the voter marked "Forrester" on the first ballot, that should be counted for Forrester. If the voter marked "Torricelli," that ballot should be counted for Torricelli, not Lautenberg.
We should not try to read the minds of voters. Torricelli and Lautenberg have publicly feuded for years, and it is clear that they detest each other. It is wrong to assume a Torricelli voter would prefer Lautenberg to Forrester if circumstances were changed -- as they now are. To make such an assumption is to further corrupt the electoral process.
-- For more than 20 years, Samuel Wright has headed a nationwide effort to reform absentee voting procedures for the benefit of military and overseas citizens. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.