Election Day in New York and Florida lasted 10 days in 1980, thanks to Henry Valentino.

A management specialist at the Defense Department for 20 years, Valentino protects the voting rights of more than 5 million Americans -- servicemen in the Pacific, construction workers in Saudi Arabia, vacationers in Europe -- who find themselves abroad on Election Day.

If snags in state procedures mean absentee ballots are sent out too late to be returned on time, Valentino's Federal Voting Assistance Program takes the states to court to make sure they give absentee voters extra time to return their ballots. That's what happened two years ago in New York and Florida.

"We run in different cycles," said Valentino, whose office has five employes and a $500,000 budget. "When the state legislatures are in session we are working with the states to get them to simplify their laws and change their procedures. When they are out of session we try to assist military personnel and others" covered by the Overseas Citizens Voting Act.

This means writing manuals about the various state election laws and distributing them, along with voter registration postcards, to about 100,000 voting-assistance officers in the military, 400 companies such as Bechtel, and U.S. consular offices.

The biggest problem, however, can be informing citizens overseas that they have the right to vote. Even citizens living abroad to avoid taxes were enfranchised by 1978 legislation prohibiting states from using a ballot as proof of taxable status.