Experts Discuss Voting Tools That Reach Overseas

During a recent eCademy webcast, “Policy Recommendations to Improve Military and Overseas Voting,” members of The Council of State Governments’ Overseas Voting Initiative Policy Working Group discussed tools that improve the voting process for U.S. military members and civilians who are overseas.

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said his state plans to introduce online voter registration in October. He said online voter registration, which is expected to improve accuracy and access, reduces data entry errors and saves money because the process is efficient and eliminates paper.

“Increased access will benefit overseas and military the most because their only other option is a slow process by mail,” Condos said.

In Vermont, legislation was not necessary to implement online voter registration.

“We had enough flexibility in our voter registration statutes to allow us to move forward with it,” Condos said.

The state will introduce the My Voter Page, a personalized webpage with a secure login for all registered voters in the state, alongside online voter registration. The page will allow voters to view sample ballots, track absentee ballots and find polling places.

David Stafford, supervisor of elections for Escambia County, Fla., discussed ways to effectively communicate with voters, which includes avoiding jargon that is only understandable to election officials.   

“The language that we use on a day-to-day basis is, a lot of times, foreign to your average everyday voter who is thinking about voting, at best, two times every couple of years,” Stafford said.

Statutes set much of the verbiage used to communicate with voters, but election leaders should look at fixing this problem as they streamline processes, Stafford said. Also, military and overseas voters, including civilians, may not have a lot of time to concentrate on voting materials, and tools such as checklists can improve the process.   

Stafford said election websites in Florida include sections devoted to voter information for military members and civilians who are overseas, and he expressed the importance of sending voters to local election officials for help.  

“The closer you can get to the person who is actually going to be canvassing that ballot, the better it is because they can communicate best to the voter (about) what needs to happen,” Stafford said.

In San Diego County, Calif., a 10-year initiative called “Live Well San Diego” aims to improve every aspect of quality of life in the county, including issues related to the military and overseas voters, said Michael Vu, registrar of voters in the county. 
Vu works to engage commanding officers and voting assistance officers within the county in order to improve ballot return rates from military members and individuals overseas.

Tammy Patrick, senior adviser of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project and a former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department in Arizona, echoed the other presenters on the importance of online registration.

“In Arizona, we were the first to have and offer online voter registration, starting back in 2002,” Patrick said. “It’s something I’ve advocated for, for over a decade now. And it’s exciting that so many states are now offering those services.”

As states begin online voter registration, Patrick suggested they also consider integrating the Federal Post Card Application, a request form for both voter registration and absentee ballots.

Patrick urged policymakers to think about all the tools and recommendations discussed during the webcast, including online registration, ballot tracking and the establishment of advisory boards to engage stakeholders.

Patrick said she was thrilled be part of the groups working to improve voting policies and was “looking forward to getting some of the things implemented in a more widely distributed way.”

The CSG Overseas Voting Initiative is a four-year project with the U.S. Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program to improve the return rate of overseas absentee ballots from service members and U.S. citizens abroad.