Technology Working Group Discusses Tech Tools to Improve Overseas Voting

Members of The Council of State Governments’ Overseas Voting Initiative Technology Working Group discussed technology that could help U.S. military and overseas citizens in the voting process during a recent CSG eCademy webcast.

The CSG Overseas Voting Initiative, or OVI, is a four-year cooperative agreement between CSG and the Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FVAP. The project started in 2013 and will conclude at the end of 2017. The CSG OVI Technology Working Group plans to unveil its best practice recommendations for states during the 2016 CSG National Conference in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., in December.

Participants in this CSG eCademy OVI Technology Working Group webinar were: Neal Kelley, registrar of voters for Orange County, California; Robert Giles, director of the Division of Elections for the New Jersey Department of State; and Justus Wendland, the Help America Vote Act administrator for the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and David Beirne, director of voting assistance for FVAP. The discussion was moderated by Michelle Shafer, who is a senior research associate for the OVI.

After an introduction of CSG and its joint work on the OVI with FVAP by Michelle Shafer, FVAP’s David Beirne recounted his question to the Technology Working Group when the OVI was first formulated. “What’s on the leading edge as we look at technology solutions to serve members of our military who are deployed overseas as well as overseas citizens?” That was the question he posed as the Technology Working Group initially determined its focus areas.

The group’s answer was data standardization, Common Access Cards, or CACs, with accompanying digital signature verification, and ballot duplication methods. Beirne gave a brief overview of these three key areas before other presenters delved into each topic in more detail.

Neal Kelley, chief election official for one of the largest voting jurisdictions in the U.S., spoke next and explained that data standardization is the process by which similar data received in various formats are transformed to a common format that enhances comparative processes. Kelley shared that it can be difficult to look for trends and improvement opportunities in election processes when jurisdictions across the country input data in different formats. CSG’s OVI Technology Working Group’s data standardization subgroup, which Kelley leads, is working to understand data—and data entry points—and develop data standards specific to military and overseas voting which will allow election officials to gain a better sense of the voter experience and outcomes.

Beirne said, “We really want to get to a more granular sense of, ‘What’s the voter’s experience?’ and, ‘How can we improve our program elements here at the Federal Voting Assistance Program or work with our key stakeholders, who, just like our military, are serving on the front line when it comes to election administration?’”

Next, Justus Wendland, a member of the CSG OVI Technology Working Group’s CAC / digital signature verification subgroup, discussed efforts to use the digital signature certificates that accompany CACs—identification cards used by members of the military that contain many details about them including demographic information, service branch and rank—to allow election officials to ensure proper authentication of Federal Post Card Applications (FPCAs) for service members.

This subgroup is exploring the use of CACs and digital signature verification so that service members can electronically sign FPCAs in an effort to enhance the voter registration process for voters and election officials.

Lastly, the webinar participants discussed the topic of ballot duplication. The OVI’s Technology Working Group decided to tackle ballot duplication for a variety of reasons including the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, passed by Congress in 2009, which requires election officials to offer an electronic method for submitting a blank ballot to voters who reside overseas.

“One challenge is that with these new measures comes unintended consequences,” Beirne said. “How do election officials deal with the challenge of a ballot that’s been sent electronically and then may come back to them through regular postal means? There are definite technical implications.”

Robert Giles, who leads the CSG OVI Technology Working Group ballot duplication subgroup added that election officials across the country use various types of ballot duplication processes to duplicate a ballot returned by postal mail, email or fax so that the ballot can be read by a vote tabulation scanner.

Ballots may need to be duplicated in order to process them through a local election jurisdiction’s vote tabulation system. The most common reasons ballots require duplication is that they are damaged in transit or otherwise deemed unreadable due to circumstances such as the size of paper an overseas voter used to print a ballot they received electronically.

The CSG Overseas Voting Initiative’s Technology Working Group looks forward to further detailing the topics of data standardization, CAC / digital signature verification, and ballot duplication methods at the end of 2016 when the group issues its recommendations.

The full webcast, “Putting Technology to Work for Military and Overseas Voting: Recommendations by the CSG Overseas Voting Initiative,” is available in the CSG Knowledge Center at