Military and overseas voters to get online options

Under Defense Authorization Act, states must make applications available online

A section of the 2010 Defense Authorization Act includes requirements for states to provide overseas and military voters with online access to voter registration applications and ballot requests.

Many civilians and members of the military serving overseas are effectively disenfranchised because of the difficulty of registering remotely, requesting ballots and returning the marked ballots within strict deadlines. To address this problem, the law requires that these absentee voters be given an option to request materials electronically as well as by mail.

Declaring that “the right to vote is a fundamental right,” the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act says that state, local and federal governments must work together “to provide voter registration services and balloting materials in a secure, expeditious manner.”

The act does not require actual online voting. Although voters can request ballots electronically, they must physically return the marked paper ballots to state election officials for their votes to count.

States are required to have the systems in place for the 2010 general midterm elections. The nonprofit Overseas Vote Foundation has teamed with a voting technology company to provide a customizable system for states to meet the federal requirements. Based on state-hosted online systems developed by OVF and already used by a number of states to provide overseas voter registration information and services, it also includes Pnyx.SecureBallot software from Scytl Secure Electronic Voting to securely deliver a blank ballot and allow voters to track the voted ballot.

The new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act amends the previous Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act, streamlining and clarifying some provisions for online access to resources. Military and overseas civilian voters must have the option of requesting materials online or via e-mail, and of having them delivered electronically as well as by mail, according to the voter’s preference. States must, “to the extent practicable,” ensure the security of the materials and protect the privacy of the voter. Funding will be provided to the states for these systems under the Help America Vote Act.

State-hosted Web sites used by many states provide registration services customized for the state that automate much of the process and make voter-specific election information available. Tools include registration and ballot requests, write-in ballots, help desk support and express ballot return, often at discounted rates, by FedEx.

The Scytl Pnyx.SB software allows election officials to assign the absentee voters making the requests to precincts so that the proper ballots can be provided, either encrypted online or by mail. Voters can download ballots and check the status of their voted ballot online as it moves through the administrative process. The tracking system generates immutable audit logs to ensure that data on the forms sent electronically arrives intact and unchanged, as well as verifying the identity of the user downloading the material.

Although the act addresses the electronic request and delivery of documents rather than electronic voting, it also has a provision for state pilot programs to test new voting technologies. These could include the transmission of voting material across military networks and virtual private networks, the use of cryptography and centrally managed kiosks, and the scanning and transmission of ballot images.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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