[Image courtesy of FVAP]
Two of the most significant changes in election administration over the last few years are the improved access tools for military and overseas voters via the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and the explosive growth in online voter registration (OVR) in many states. Now, those two trends seem to be merging somewhat as a new report suggests that downloads of the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) are down in part because so many voters are going straight to the states via OVR. Marine Times has more:
The number of military and overseas voters who have downloaded Federal Post Card Applications from the DoD website is down by more than half compared the 2010 midterm elections, Defense Department officials said.
But that’s not necessarily an indication that voter turnout among the military and overseas absentee voter population will be low, officials said. For one thing, the number of troops deployed has decreased, which reduces the number of absentee voters. Other factors are in play as well.
In the past, the rate of military voter registration and election participation has been higher than in the general population, noted Matt Boehmer, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
This year, through the end of August, 27,386 FPCAs had been downloaded, according to FVAP data. That’s less than half the 57,197 FPCAs downloaded during the same eight-month period in 2010, the last mid-term election. Mid-term elections generally garner lower voter turnouts than presidential elections.
Traditionally, FPCAs were the voting lifeline for UOCAVA voters – but now that appears to be changing:
FPCAs are used to register to vote, as well as to request absentee ballots for that election year. The goal is to make it easier for troops and their spouses living away from their voting jurisdiction either in the U.S. or overseas, and civilians overseas, to vote by absentee ballot.
Over the last few years, states have made strides in changing their own processes to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot, officials said. For example, in 2010, only three states offered online registration tools for absentee voters. Now, 17 states provide this option.
Boehmer said the lower numbers of downloads does not concern him, since more absentee voters are likely going straight to their states’ sites for registration and voting materials.
“If their state has an online system, that’s where we want them to go. We promote the use of states’ online systems,” Boehmer said.
Indeed, FVAP believes that voters are now finding state systems via its own online portal:
“I think it’s truly conceivable that the numbers have shifted, that more people are using the Federal Voting Assistance Program portal to get to the [states’ portals],” said Bob Carey, president of the nonprofit National Defense Committee, and a former FVAP director.
Boehmer said FVAP’s core mission is to ensure that troops, their family members and overseas civilian voters are aware of the tools available to them — whether it’s quickly finding a state voter registration deadline date online, or calling FVAP’s toll-free line with a question.
“We have so many things in terms of voting assistance. If we’re helping connect voters with states’ online systems and they wouldn’t have known if not for FVAP, then we have done our job,” he said.
Once the 2014 cycle is complete, it will be interesting to see data bears this theory out – i.e., if states with OVR systems really do have proportionally lower numbers of FPCAs – and if so, if certain types of state OVR systems are more effective than others in shifting voters away from the “old” FPCA.
For now, though, it’s an encouraging sign – suggesting that new approaches to registration really do reach voters wherever they live.
Stay tuned …