BTA moves fast on online voting

DOD unveils absentee ballot request system in three weeks

Who is using IVAS?

Seven states and territories have signed up to use the online ballot request system developed by the Defense Department to help overseas voters ask for an absentee ballots.

Arkansas

Illinois

North Carolina

Puerto Rico

Vermont

Virgin Islands

Washington

This was a program that had languished for a long time and we turned it around in 22 days and delivered it on schedule. This is pretty unprecedented in government.' Paul Brinkley, the Business Transformation Agency's co-directoR

The Office of the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness needed a contract to augment features on the Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site, and needed it fast.

It was Aug. 8, and Armed Forces Voters Week ' considered the final week for overseas military personnel to submit absentee ballot requests that safely meet most state deadlines ' was less than a month away.

Personnel and Readiness officials looked to DOD's Business Transformation Agency, one of the few agencies that could turn this around with the speed they were looking for.

'They asked us to come over to hear their situation,' recalled Army Major Gen. Carlos 'Butch' Pair, the Defense business systems acquisition executive for BTA.
'This is exactly the reason the BTA was stood up at the enterprise level. This was a great little project to hone our skills on.'

Months before, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) had written a letter to Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which 16 senators from both parties signed, calling on Rumsfeld to streamline the military overseas voting process. In July, Burns said, he began blocking all nominations to DOD civilian posts, to force DOD's hand in improving absentee voting.

Hit the ground running

Pair said that, after the initial phone call and visit, BTA put together a cross-functional team of experts from systems engineers to contracting officials, and in 22 days helped FVAP secure an $838,000 contract with PostX Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., which focuses on e-mail encryption.

'This was a program that had languished for a long time, and we turned it around in 22 days and delivered it on schedule,' said Paul Brinkley, BTA's co-director, at a recent news conference. 'This is pretty unprecedented in government.'

Under the contract, PostX is managing the renamed and newly launched Integrated Voting Alternative Site (IVAS), formerly the Interim Voting Assistance System. BTA helped customize the look and feel of the application, Pair said.

'This is a secure solution that will allow a person to go in, regardless of where they are, and request an absentee ballot,' said Greg Ambrose, systems engineer for the Defense business systems acquisition executive.

Scott Wiedman, deputy director for the Federal Voting Assistance Program, said his office added enhanced capabilities to IVAS, including consolidating information from the 55 states and territories regarding online ballot requests and delivery alternatives to the mail process. The online ballot system lets registered voters submit a federal postcard application ballot request to their local election official via e-mail.

FVAP is charged with administering the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

One of the capabilities 'allows the citizen to fill out an automated version of the ballot form,' Wiedman said. 'It is saved to a secure server, then the local election official gets a notification that there's a pending request, and they will use a DOD-issued password to log in to the secure server and pull down that request.'

FVAP has discussed the improvements to its IVAS system with all the states and territories via conferences, letters, e-mail and phone calls. More than 500 jurisdictions in 11 states currently participate in IVAS 2006, officials said. Five states and two territories use an online tool for requesting ballots (see chart).

David S. Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, since October 2005, FVAP staff members have conducted 110 workshops worldwide ' most of them at military installations.

But Sen. Burns doesn't agree that the program has been properly publicized, and he blames this on bureaucratic obstruction.

'The troops don't know about it, and the local officials don't know about it,' said Burns. 'So this program will only be used by a few soldiers overseas [during] this cycle.'

Burns added that he plans to keep 'the bureaucrats' feet to the fire to ensure this program is fully implemented and available to all soldiers by the 2008 election.'
The Government Accountability Office found that FVAP had expanded its efforts since the 2004 presidential election by improving its Web site, conducting more training workshops and providing online training for voting assistance officers.

Still, GAO said two major challenges remain to FVAP's overseas voting assistance: The absentee voting process needs to be simplified and standardized, and the program office still needs to develop and implement a secure electronic registration and voting system.

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