FVAP’s David Beirne Offers Perspective on “State of the Military Voter” and More in ElectionlineWeekly

[Image via FVAP]

My friend and colleague David Beirne, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, has a “perspective” piece in this week’s electionlineWeekly talking about his background, his current work and the road ahead for military and overseas voting. Check it out:

As Director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), I help lead the nation’s efforts to ensure that Americans around the world — military members, their families and other overseas citizens — can exercise their voting rights under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

The work is especially rewarding to me because I’ve been in the field in many different capacities over the years: as a local election official in Florida and Texas, as a representative of election technology companies after the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and as a contributor to the Pew/Google partnership that created the Voting Information Project. All of these roles over twenty years of experience in election administration have given me a deep appreciation for all the people who do the work to make elections happen and a unique perspective on what FVAP does to assist them and their voters worldwide. 

While Election Day is always exciting for the FVAP team, we also look forward to the summer following a federal election because it gives us an opportunity to share our progress with data and analysis from our regular Post-Election Voting Surveys (PEVS) of active duty military, voting assistance officers and state election officials. [NOTE: My team at Fors Marsh Group assists with this work – DMCj.] This year’s PEVS was especially meaningful because it took place a decade after passage of the 2009 The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act which dramatically improved access to registration and absentee ballots for military and overseas voters. FVAP summarized the results in its regular Report to Congress and created a new look at the data called “State of the Military Voter.”

The State of the Military Voter in 2018 found that life for military voters has improved significantly in the last 10 years.

However, challenges remain; in particular, while participation rates among active duty military voters improved from 2014 to 2018, they fell behind increases in domestic civilian participation rates even when you control for demographic differences between the two populations. This represents one of the biggest challenges for FVAP as we are not a Get-Out-The-Vote operation, but one focused on raising awareness of the various absentee voting resources available to these voters.

Consequently, we’re continuing our work to reach those military voters — especially younger and first-time voters — by alerting them to the resources that can help them register and vote, including the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which doubles as a registration form and absentee ballot request for UOCAVA voters. Only by raising awareness, can FVAP fulfill its mission and support those who have an interest in voting.

As a former election official, I know how much state and local election offices want to help their military and overseas voters and how much FVAP relies on their passion for these voters. FVAP will continue to work with those offices to ensure that UOCAVA voters can find and use the information they need to get and cast a ballot in 2020 and beyond. In addition, we’re working with election officials and the Council on State Governments to promote policies that improve the absentee voting process — like Montana’s recent legislation allowing UOCAVA voters to digitally sign registration and voting materials using their secure Common Access Card.

I’m also excited about our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of data on UOCAVA voters, particularly a program FVAP is piloting that collects standard data from the states on UOCAVA voting transactions to identify individual drivers for success or failure. Using records of voting transactions, rather than relying on voters’ sometimes imperfect or incomplete recollections, will help us determine how best to serve voters around the world. For FVAP it is important to the voters’ experience to find out if their absentee ballots ultimately were counted or rejected.

Finally, we are closely monitoring the current international negotiations regarding the Universal Postal Union and will assist election officials and their overseas voters with understanding any changes in the voting process and will post official guidance on https://FVAP.gov/UPU as we receive it.  FVAP is working closely with its federal partners to ensure ballots are transmitted as seamlessly as possible.

We know that life for military and overseas voters has improved tremendously in the last 10 years — but as another presidential election approaches, we know there is still work to do. I have great confidence that the state of the military voter — and all Americans around the world — will continue to improve in 2020 and beyond, but only as we continue to work closely with our state and local election officials and support our Voting Assistance Officers across the Armed Services and the State Department.

Kudos to David for this piece, and thanks to Mindy Moretti at electionline for sharing it; military and overseas voting has made tremendous strides in the last decade, but the 2020 cycle will undoubtedly bring new excitement – and challenges – as the campaign gears up and the world continues to change. Stay tuned …

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