Making Every Vote Count

In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, nearly 60 percent of registered stateside voters cast their ballots successfully. In the same election, only 18 percent of registered U.S. military and overseas voters requested ballots and slightly fewer than 13 percent of those voters actually returned ballots.

This is not a new problem, according to Kamanzi Kalisa, director of the new Overseas Voting Initiative at The Council of State Governments. 

“For decades, members of the U.S. military and their dependents have experienced problems at every step of the overseas voting process—from registering to vote and requesting or receiving absentee ballots to returning those absentee ballots,” said Kalisa. 

When making sure every vote counts—including those cast from U.S. citizens overseas—state and local election administrators face a number of challenges, such as maintaining accurate registration rolls. 

“That’s particularly true when you are dealing with a highly mobile and transient population that sometimes resides in remote areas of the world,” said Kalisa.

“Providing accurate and up-to-date election information involving the complex process of candidate qualifying, voter registration, and submission deadlines has also proved challenging,” said Kalisa.

Another major concern for overseas voters and election officials is time. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey found that 25 states and the District of Columbia did not provide sufficient time for U.S. overseas voters to cast ballots and have their votes counted. 
J. Scott Wiedmann, director of communications and outreach for the Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Department of Defense agrees.

“Military and overseas voters both face unique challenges; namely—mobility, time and complexity,” he said. “They might move every two or three years, and submitting a new registration and ballot request may not top their list of priorities.”

To begin addressing—and resolving—some of these problems, The Council of State Governments has partnered with the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which “works to ensure that service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so—from anywhere in the world,” said Wiedmann.

For example, the program works closely with the State Department to provide absentee voting information to overseas citizens. Education and outreach information is distributed to embassies, consulates and other diplomatic posts worldwide.  

“Voting is a personal choice and responsibility, but (the Federal Voting Assistance Program) wants to ensure that any service member, family member or overseas citizen who wants to vote, knows where to go to get started—or who to ask for help,” said Wiedmann.

Over the next four years, The Council of State Governments will convene two parallel advisory groups of experienced state and local election administrators: 

  • The Policy Advisory Group will identify and promote best practices for absentee voting laws and policies. 

  • The Technology Advisory Group will advise the Federal Voting Assistance Program on data standardization policies that will help identify problems associated with state and local election administration. 

According to Kalisa, the partnership between CSG and the Department of Defense is a natural fit. 

“Because CSG is the only national membership association serving all three branches of state government in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories, it is uniquely positioned to conduct the necessary outreach and research to increase mutual awareness and solve public policy problems benefiting  both U.S. military and civilian voters,” said Kalisa. 

Kalisa and Wiedmann will discuss the current U.S. military and overseas voting process during an upcoming CSG eCademy, “Improving State Elections for U.S. Military and Civilian Overseas Voters,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29. Mark Raugust, senior voting action officer at the State Department, will also be a panelist.

CSG Resources