DOD tests use of e-ballots

Federal Assistance Voting Program

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. Sept. 8, 2006. Please see Corrections & Clarifications to view what’s changed.

The 26th amendment to the Constitution gives all citizens 18 and older the right to vote. Passed in 1971, the measure was born out of the Vietnam War era, when students nationwide chanted, “If we're old enough to fight, we're old enough to vote.”

This year, the Defense Department is taking measures to ensure warfighters can vote by employing Web technology and e-mail. The 2006 election will feature a pilot program that uses Web technologies to assist deployed voters, said Michael Dominguez, deputy undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, in a conference call with reporters today.

“In the last several years, we’ve had a special challenge of reaching the deployed warrior on the battlefield,” Dominguez said. Warfighters often don’t have definite addresses or the time to go through traditional absentee ballot procedures, he added.

About 1.4 million military personnel and about the same number of family members are deployed overseas or outside their home districts in the United States, Dominguez said. DOD is also responsible for ensuring the right to vote for about 3.7 million American citizens currently overseas, he added.

The Web site for DOD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is the home for absentee-ballot requests and assistance. This year warfighters will be able to request and receive their ballots completely online. However, they will still depend on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their votes in most cases, Dominguez said.

Individual states determine how a ballot must be returned to them, said Polly Brunelli, FVAP’s director. No state currently allows citizens to cast votes via a Web interface, she said. In rare cases, voters might be able to sign an absentee ballot, scan it, save it as a PDF document and send it to a state election office as an e-mail attachment, she added.

FVAP’s Integrated Voting Alternative Site spells out the policies and procedures for absentee voting in every state, Brunelli said.

DOD has developed two tools and offered them to the states, said Scott Wiedmann, FVAP’s deputy director. The tools are available to members of the armed forces, family members, DOD employees and contractors outside the United States.

The first tool enables e-mail delivery of the federal application form to overseas voters. Members of the DOD community with pre-existing passwords that enable them to access department databases can use the form, Wiedmann said.

A user fills out the application form online and has it sent to his or her home state. Because there is no signature on the form, the method only applies to voters who have pre-registered, he added.

A second tool offers the option of saving the application form on a secure server, where a participating local election official logs in and picks it up, Wiedmann said. Election officials can also upload blank ballots to the secure server for use in actual voting, he said.

As for security, individuals will use their existing user names and passwords to access the new features, Wiedmann said. No additional authentication measures will be used.

The department’s Defense Manpower Data Center developed the first tool. PostX, an information technology security firm, developed the second tool.

Congress recently appropriated $2.5 million for the Web technologies pilot program, Dominguez said. Seventy-five percent of uniformed overseas service members participated in absentee balloting in 2004.

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