GAO report on FVAP efforts

The GAO has issued a report on recent FVAP efforts to improve the voting process for overseas voters. The report, “Elections: DOD Expands Voting Assistance to Military Absentee Voters, but Challenges Remain”, faults the FVAP’s efforts. Here is an extract from the report’s summary:

Despite efforts of DOD and the states, GAO’s April 2006 report identified two major challenges that remain in providing voting assistance to military personnel: (1) simplifying and standardizing the time-consuming and multi-step absentee voting process, which includes different requirements and time frames for each state; and (2) developing and implementing a secure electronic registration and voting system. FVAP attempted to make the absentee voting process easier by using its Legislative Initiatives program to encourage states to simplify the multi-step process and standardize their absentee voting requirements. However, the majority of states have not agreed to any new initiatives since FVAP’s 2001 report on the 2000 election. FVAP is limited in its ability to affect state voting procedures because it lacks the authority to require states to take action on absentee voting initiatives. For the 2004 election, FVAP developed an electronic registration and voting experiment. However, it was not used by any voters due to concerns about the security of the system. Because DOD did not want to call into question the integrity of votes that would have been cast via the system, they decided to shut the experiment down prior to its use by any absentee voters. Some technologies—such as faxing, e-mail and the Internet—have been used to improve communication between local jurisdictions and voters.

Recently, EAC commissioners testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, and their testimony also discussed technological improvements for military and overseas voters, though focusing on current and future EAC activities to study technological improvements:

Every day financial institutions around the world use secure technology to transmit billions of dollars. The U.S. military uses secure technology to transmit sensitive and, even, classified information. With the availability of these resources and existing and strategically located personnel we could do more to ensure that UOCAVA voters have the ability to participate in U.S. elections.

EAC has contracted for a study of internet voting and the transmission and receipt of absentee ballots for UOCAVA voters. This study will include reviewing the practices of states and local jurisdictions that use technology to transmit or accept ballots and may allow internet voting. In addition, EAC will survey UOCAVA voters who have participated in some form of electronic voting. Through this study we hope to more fully understand the problems, resources and potential solutions involved in military and overseas citizen voting.

EAC has also been tasked with developing standards for Internet voting that Department of Defense can use in developing an Internet-based voting system for UOCAVA voters. Introducing technology seems like a simple solution to the problem; however there will be substantial resistance to a technology-only fix for military and overseas voting. It is important to remember that segments of our society have a healthy distrust of the security of electronic voting, particularly when voting systems or methods are connected to the Internet. Thus, it is critical that we address issues such as how an Internet-based voting system will provide confidence to the public that it is not only secure, but also that the person casting the ballot using that system is an eligible voter.

I’ve got two observations to make about this flurry of reports and testimony. The first is that it’s interesting to have been involved in the area of voting technology and election reform efforts for long enough now to recognize the seasonality of interest in various topics … and it is now the season to examine why we’ve made little progress improving the absentee voting process for overseas and military voters. The answer is simple: far too few resources have been spent since 2000 on figuring out better procedures and developing better technologies for overseas and military voters. The second is that at some point it would be great to hear a complete reporting about what was learned during the FVAP’s 2004 experiment, even though the system that was under development as part of that project was never implement for registration and voting.