One portal, many votes: All states' absentee ballots in one place
The U.S. Vote Foundation has launched an online portal that will enable absentee voters to register and request ballots with forms and information customized for each state.
The tool went live June 8 for 21 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining states are expected to be included by June 15.
“The information already is publicly available,” said U.S. Vote President Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat. “The value added is in assembling it in one place into a form that is available to the voters.”
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The site provides state-specific forms for registration and for requesting absentee ballots that can be filled out online, printed out, signed and mailed. It also provides the mailing address of the proper local election office based on the user’s residence, as well as contact information. A Candidate Finder feature also links users to candidate information for the voter’s location.
The foundation says it is the first tool of its kind to be adapted for all 50 states and is available for licensing by election offices and other organizations. “We can provide this to any state that wants it in an affordable way,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said.
Dzieduszycka-Suinat announced the launch of the site at a meeting of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in San Antonio. She said educational organizations have already shown interest in licensing the tool because students away from home during elections often vote by absentee ballot.
The U.S. Vote Foundation, launched in January, is a part of the older Overseas Vote Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting the ability of military and other overseas U.S. voters to participate in elections. Those groups traditionally have had limited access to the electoral process because distances and inadequate communications often make it impractical for many of them to receive and return ballots to local election officials in time to be counted. A post-election survey by the Overseas Vote Foundation found that about one-third of overseas voters were effectively disenfranchised in the 2010 election.
U.S. Vote is extending work to help enable domestic absentee voters, which is a significant portion of the electorate. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, more than 22.2 million domestic absentee ballots were cast in the 2008 presidential election.
Help in getting absentee voters included is particularly important in this year’s election, Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. “This is a tough year, when a lot of new regulations are coming into play.”
Dzieduszycka-Suinat said it took about four months to actually program the portal, although it has been in various states of development for about 18 months. Actual coding was not a challenge, she said. “Because of our work with overseas absentee voters, we had access to applications we could already use,” including an online voter registration engine for all 50 states.
The greatest challenge in the platform’s development was creating the proper forms for each state and populating them with the correct information, she said. Requirements were gathered for each state, and these became the specifications for the tools that eventually were created.
The project did not require the active participation or approval of state election officials, although “producing anything noncompliant would have been a huge mistake,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. The foundation has reached out to state officials to encourage them to test the site and get their feedback. Some suggestions were made for corrections, but “we haven’t gotten any negative feedback,” she said. “They were very excited.”
States included in the initial launch of the tool are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.