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Stop questioning race on ballots: Gianaris

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria) is calling on the federal government to stop asking overseas voters to give their race on application forms for absentee ballots.

Gianaris, chairman of the Assembly Elections Subcommittee, said he discovered that the government was asking voters abroad to indicate their race on the applications during his review of the Nov. 4 election. He said most of the voters to use absentee ballots in the borough were in the military.

The assemblyman said he wrote a letter last week to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in which he called on the federal government to discontinue the practice, especially in light of President−elect Barack Obama’s historic win.

“This is more than symbolic — it’s outright inappropriate,” he said. “We just had an election where we established that race is not a factor in our politics. We’re in the 21st century.”

Gianaris said he was unsure whether voters were required to give their race or if a ballot could be rejected by omitting such information. But he said he thought it was unnecessary to ask them.

“We’re in the 21st century,” he said. “Yet our federal government requests racial information before allowing people to vote.”

He said the applications for absentee ballots are shipped not only to military abroad but any U.S. resident living overseas. The ballots are sent to overseas voters through the Defense Department’s Federal Post Card Program.

The Defense Department could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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