CSG Overseas Voting Initiative Releases Policy Recommendations

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[Image via sos.wa.gov]

The Council on State Governments’ Overseas Voting Initiative has released “best-practice policy recommendations” of a policy working group formed to look at how to improve voting for American voters around the world. From the release:

For decades, members of the U.S. military and their dependents experienced problems at every step of the overseas voting process: registering to vote, requesting and receiving absentee ballots, and returning absentee ballots. Through a series of policy recommendations addressing voter communication, the use of Federal Post Card Applications, online voter registration and improved engagement with the U.S. military community, however, the CSG Overseas Voting Initiative Policy Working Group aims to enhance state elections for military and overseas voters…

“I am extremely pleased with the work product that has come from the CSG OVI Policy Working Group,” said Matt Boehmer, [Federal Voting Assistance Program] Director. “FVAP saw a need for this important research and collaboration and The Council of State Governments is successfully filling this role for us by bringing together election officials and experts from across the nation to focus their attention on military and overseas voting.”

“The efforts of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group, and specifically these policy recommendations, is based on the important work of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA),” said Boehmer. “The PCEA section on military and overseas voting served as a springboard for the OVI’s effort in the policy arena. Therefore, I am particularly grateful that we have two former commissioners of the PCEA–Ann McGeehan, CSG OVI policy adviser, and Tammy Patrick, auxiliary member of the CSG Policy Working Group–working with the CSG OVI on these policy best-practice recommendations for military and overseas voting.”

The full recommendations (available here) are fairly wide-ranging, and include:

CSG.OVI.recs

A major strength of the effort (beyond the recommendations themselves) is the commitment of the working group members:

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman serves as the chair of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group. More than 60,000 military and overseas voters consider the state of Washington their home and count on her office for assistance.

“Making sure all of Washington’s voters are able to cast their ballots is of utmost importance to me and serving our military and overseas voters is a personal passion for me,” said Wyman. “I was once in their shoes and experienced difficulties in being able to vote as an overseas citizen.”

“Being in a position to help improve the UOCAVA voting process as Washington secretary of state and through my service to the CSG Policy Working Group is so rewarding. I am very proud of renewed focus on these voters, many of them our heroes who help preserve our freedoms. Voter communication is key and I hope you will find our best-practices recommendations helpful,” said Wyman…

“I participated with my colleagues to study and discuss online voter registration as it relates to military and overseas voters,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

“Vermont recently implemented online voter registration, so the idea sharing within our work group was helpful to the efforts of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group,” said Condos. “It also ensured Vermont’s online voter registration system fully considered the needs of military and overseas voters, providing them with the system access they need including the ability to easily request and track the status of absentee ballots. We encourage our fellow state and local election officials to take a look at these policy recommendations and to incorporate our suggestions if they are moving forward with online voter registration” …

“The CSG OVI Policy Working Group is a great example of a small group of state and local election officials working cooperatively together to determine suggested best practices to improve military and overseas voting based on our collective election experience, various state laws and practices, extensive research and focus the areas where we can make the most impact,” said Lance Gough, executive director of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

“I am proud of the work we accomplished together to help UOCAVA voters and my fellow election officials throughout the nation…”

Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board served on the Federal Post Card Applications, or FPCA, subcommittee.

“The CSG OVI Policy Working Group has come up with two recommendations that focus specifically on the FPCA,” said Kennedy. “In Wisconsin we have already implemented many of these recommendations. However, there are some unique challenges in our state that influence the use of the FPCA in Wisconsin while other states have different challenges. The recommendations of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group surrounding the use of the FPCA are to treat the FPCA as a request for permanent voter registration and to establish a default validity period for the FPCA mail ballot request. The CSG OVI Policy Working Group’s recommendations are backed by legislation in Wisconsin and in many other states which will allow for the recommendations to be implemented in time for them to have a positive effect on the 2016 election cycle,” said Kennedy. [emphasis added]

The recommendations were developed and supported by the full Policy Working Group, which includes:

* Hon. Kim Wyman–Washington Secretary of State and chair of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group

* Hon. Jim Condos–Vermont Secretary of State

* Hon. Jon A. Husted–Ohio Secretary of State

* Mr. Gary Poser–Director of Elections, Minnesota

* Mr. Keith Ingram–Director of Elections, Texas

* Mr. Kevin Kennedy–Director and General Counsel, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board

* Mr. Lance Gough–Executive Director, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners

* Hon. David Stafford–Supervisor of Elections, Escambia County, Fla., and vice chair of the CSG OVI Policy Working Group

* Mr. Michael Vu–Registrar of Voters, San Diego County, Calif.

* Ms. Tammy Patrick–Auxiliary member, CSG OVI Policy Working Group and senior adviser of the Democracy Project, Bipartisan Policy Center

The CSG effort is an ongoing four-year cooperative project with FVAP that launched in late 2013 “to improve the return rate of overseas absentee ballots from service members and U.S. citizens abroad.” It is led by Kamanzi Kalisa and Michelle Shafer, two familiar faces with lots of contacts and experience in the election administration field. The current policy recommendations will also be included and augmented in a larger report to be released in the first quarter of 2016 while the separate Technology Working Group will be issuing its recommendations in December 2016 at CSG’s national meeting. The full output of the OVI’s work will be released as the project wraps up in 2017.

This is a tremendous resource for the field that will allow practitioners to share best practices in order to ensure that Americans have an opportunity to cast a timely and valid ballot no matter where they are in the world. Thanks to everyone involved for their contributions and stay tuned!

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