[Screenshot image via CSG]
Last week, the Technology Working Group of The Council of State Governments’ Overseas Voting Initiative released a new report detailing its recommendations for state and local election offices aimed at improving the voting process for Americans abroad. From the press release:
The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative’s Technology Working Group, during the 2016 CSG National Conference in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, announced recommendations to address challenges facing military and overseas voters.
After more than two years of research and collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FVAP, the CSG OVI Technology Working Group developed recommendations in three core areas: 1) Unreadable/Damaged Ballot Duplication, 2) Common Access Card/Digital Signature, and 3) Verification and Data Standardization/Performance Metrics.
“The recommendations from the OVI Technology Working Group for improvement in the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) voting process provide real-world examples that will serve as a model for legislators and election officials throughout the country,” FVAP Director Matt Boehmer said. “FVAP and CSG teamed to form the Overseas Voting Initiative three years ago, and we are very encouraged by the OVI’s progress to date.”
As more ballots are transmitted electronically, there is sometimes a need to duplicate damaged and unreadable ballots so vote tabulators can count the ballots. Among other suggestions, the report provides recommendations related to the ballot duplication process.
“Because UOCAVA citizens and other absentee voters are not marking their ballots in an election jurisdiction and placing them in scanner for review and eventual tabulation, there are a variety of unreadable or damaged ballot issues that can be encountered by election officials that require special attention by their staff members to ‘duplicate’ these ballots so they can be correctly tabulated according to each voter’s intent,” said Marci Andino, executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission. “Through the CSG OVI Technology Working Group, my colleagues and I developed recommendations in this area to streamline this time-consuming process of ballot duplication to ensure all ballots—including ballots unreadable by scanners and damaged ballots—can be tabulated as the voters intended. I am very pleased to have led the OVI’s effort in the area of unreadable/damaged ballot duplication while working closely with my very skilled state and local election counterparts from across the country as we developed recommendations to simplify this procedure using technologies and processes that facilitate accurate and efficient ballot duplication.”
The recommendations also note that leveraging the U.S. Department of Defense Common Access Card, or CAC, ensures election officials can verify an individual’s identity using the best technology possible.
Lori Augino, director of elections in the Office of the Washington Secretary of State, led the subgroup that examined the use of Common Access Card digital signatures to complete election-related activities and provide an option for military personnel to designate their UOCAVA voting status using a state’s online election portal.
“Our fantastic team conducted significant research into this area and listened to many speakers on related topics in order to supply recommendations to state election officials and legislators surrounding use of a CAC digital signature to aid active service members absent from their voting residence who are registering to vote and requesting a blank ballot,” Augino said. “Leading this subgroup was particularly important to me. Our service members are fighting in the far stretches of the world for our freedom. It’s incumbent upon us to remove roadblocks so they can participate in our elections. Technology can help us achieve that.”
In addition, per the recommendations, capturing the election office-voter interactions in a standard data format allows big data analytics to be used to identify best practices in election administration for military and overseas voters.
“I really enjoyed participating in the OVI Data Standardization Subgroup as my Orange County, California, election team and I have been collecting, analyzing and making data available to researchers and the public for many years,” said Neal Kelley, registrar of voters in Orange County, California. “So I see this project as an excellent extension of this work we have been doing. Our group considered the benefits that would be achieved from having a single standard for collecting and reporting UOCAVA-specific voter data at the transaction level—each critical interaction between the voter and state or local election office—and during this review, we identified several important benefits to having a data standard for military and overseas voting, with some of these benefits realized by state and local election offices and others by FVAP and the EAC (U.S. Election Assistance Commission).”
CSG Overseas Voting Initiative Director Kamanzi Kalisa said the tech-based solutions and associated recommendations leverage existing knowledge and technologies, meaning that state and local election officials can easily implement the recommendations.
“On behalf of The Council of State Governments, I would like to thank Lori Augino, Director of Elections for the New Jersey Department of State Robert Giles and Neal Kelley for their leadership in directing the efforts of our Overseas Voting Initiative Technology Working Group research areas, and all the working group members who have contributed so much to this collaborative work effort that we hope spurs further dialog and action in these key subject areas affecting military and overseas voters,” Kalisa said.
These recommendations don’t necessarily touch big, high-profile election policy issues, but they do involve the kinds of detail-focused, tech-savvy improvements that election offices can make to ensure that military and overseas civilian voters have the best possible experience.
Thanks to the Technology Working Group and the entire CSG Overseas Voting Initiative for this report; there is much to do going forward but it’s important work on behalf of Americans around the world.
Stay tuned …